MOSF 18.1: Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love…and the Fires Within

Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 18.1: Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love…and the Fires Within

by Ravi Chandra. Posted on February 28, 2023.

“Fire of Love” is now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.

“In a cold world, there was a fire. And in this fire, two lovers found a home.”
–Paraphrase of opening narration, Fire of Love

Sara Dosa’s magnificent Oscar-nominated documentary Fire of Love works in three ways: as chronicle of the relationship and marriage of Maurice and Katia Krafft rooted in their origins in post-war Alsace, France, beginning in early political activism to science and curiosity about tectonic natural forces; their adventurous work as volcanologists, and later, as humanitarians imploring decision makers to pay heed to geologic data to save human life; and ultimately, as poetic meditation on life on Earth and the purpose of human existence. Fire of Love is pitch-perfect, composed from archival footage shot by the Krafft’s and arranged by Dosa and her team, who also wrote the exemplary narration read by a wistful Miranda July, over a captivating score by Nicholas Godin. This year’s documentary nominees are quite impressive, but Fire of Love in particular brings us to the central human aspiration for understanding and vibrant life amidst turmoil and tension, synonymous with love itself, making it an essential metaphor and message for our times set against the question of what will out from our moment. What will erupt. What will pulse.

Some people are said to sublimate their love of fire by becoming firefighters. Perhaps Maurice and Katia Krafft did the same by becoming volcanologists. Can we perform a similar alchemy with the fires that besiege our hearts, minds, and societies?

Stills from the film, quoting Maurice Krafft.

The film’s synopsis reads:

“Katia and Maurice Krafft loved two things – each other and volcanoes. For two decades, the daring French volcanologist couple roamed the planet, chasing eruptions and documenting their discoveries. Ultimately, they lost their lives in a 1991 volcanic explosion, leaving a legacy that forever enriched our knowledge of the natural world. Director Sara Dosa and the filmmaking team fashion a lyrical celebration of the intrepid scientists’ spirit of adventure, drawing from the Krafft’s spectacular archive. Fire of Love tells a story of primordial creation and destruction, following two bold explorers as they venture into the unknown, all for the sake of love.”

Their journey is a brave, passionate, daring, and occasionally foolish quest for knowledge, filled with flair, elan, joie de vivre, and a clear enjoyment of each other as well. Their attempts to bring science to policy makers and the public brings to mind the challenges of our own COVID times. The human struggle – and adventure – for consciousness and compassion in the face of the forces of nature and suffering that dwarf us all is a valiant and noble quest. All hands on deck.

As I watched the film, my mind turned to my own personal experience as volcano, which I wrote about in MOSF 15.2: Lama Rod Owens and the Emotional Body of Asian Americans, published in the lava flow of emotions affirming, honing and reshaping my identity three months after the murder of George Floyd. In those months, we all came apart. The tectonic plate of the dominant culture threatened to subsume us all, but the magma of a deeper reality fired new beacons into our land- and mindscape.

I took on the agonizing subject of anger and a lack of a continuous felt sense of belonging, in America and even within Asian America, as someone who can “go there,” who has been both prized and shunned because of this feature of my life lived creatively close to wounds in my patients, the culture, and in myself:

“I think part of the reason I feel I don’t fit is that there are some folks runnin’ around pretendin’ not to understand my emotions, or sayin’ that my emotions are somehow bad, wrong or strange. Not namin’ names, just sayin’. “Are you alright, Ravi? It’s not like you to be upset.” I’m like, “do you even know me?” The answer is no.

Let’s face it. Fuji-san looks all stable and majestic, but it is still a fucking volcano.”

Sara Dosa is not South Asian, but ironically, her last name means “anger” in Pali. Hmmm….

Sara Dosa, photo from Mirabel Pictures. “Dosa” in addition to being a delicious South Indian crepe, also means “anger” in Pali, and is apparently also Italian. Who knew.

There are many layers to identity, personality, and society. Our strongest connections both within our individual neural networks and in our culture are paradoxically both the most turbulent and the most calm, the most volatile and the most observant, each feeding the other, each plying the other for attention. Our points of contact and fraught attachment are tinged with fire. Somewhere in the midst of this back-and-forth, insight, wisdom, and compassion might be born – but they certainly have not gone viral, as far as I can tell. Let me know.

We have a tectonic dialogue of plates and cores, adrift in uncertainty. Recently, geologists discovered a core within the Earth’s core, one that, in keeping with Buddhist insight, is always changing and riddled with dependencies. What is at our core, what is our essence, as individuals and as a culture? How are individuals and cultures in conflict and communion?

Thar be dragons. And dimwitted, dangerous defenses.

I asked my ophthalmologist if he’s seen any signs of intelligent life recently. He paused and measured a reply. “Some.”

Let’s not forget that the galaxy’s greatest logicians come from the planet Vulcan. They’ve apparently had to deal with some eruptions themselves. You need quite a lot of cortex and social being to deal with emotional upheaval. What we don’t have personally, we need to make or recruit. This is never an individual matter. It requires Federation. (Groan if you must! An arched eyebrow if you object!)

Emotional magma reorganizes, or topples, a sense of self. The culture is fragile on this ground. We need to remember what connects us, or the uncertainty between us will cause rift, and damage.

Esperanza Spalding knows something of the fire within, and guarding the essence of our humanity.

I first encountered Sara Dosa’s work at the 2015 CAAMFest, when her film The Last Season screened. This film, now available on Kanopy, was also about humans finding their own nature through deeper connection with nature. I wrote:

“In The Last Season, the hunt for matsutake mushrooms in Central Oregon brings together an elderly, ailing white Vietnam Vet, Roger Higgins, and his younger Cambodian counterpart, Kouy Loch. They both sleep with guns across their chests; they both wake up screaming from flashbacks. Just like the mushrooms underground nourish the pines, they nourish each other, mutual symbionts. Family. Loch delivers poetic, philosophical riffs about interdependence in the Oregon forest, the binding together of life, made more poignant as we see the affection between these men, the forgotten soldiers whom we must remember as if our lives depend on it; because they do. The war inside soothed, all because the Japanese love a particular kind of rare fungus. What do we need to eat to make the whole world come together?”

Dosa’s interest in the intersection of human consciousness and Mother Nature continues with Fire of Love. There is drama and mystery in every frame, the “ecstasy and loneliness,” perhaps a translation of awe, that greet both Katia and Maurice when they first viewed eruptions in their youth. They observe the world “in their own distinct ways,” exquisitely underscored by Dosa. Katia is a bird, focused on relationships, details, and subtlety. Maurice is an elephant seal, intent on the grandiose and singular. Katia specializes in still photography. Maurice in the spectacle of film and change. They become experts at “playing themselves” for the camera, dramatists for what they considered the most dramatic spectacle on Earth. They asked “what is it that makes the Earth’s heart beat, its blood flow,” questions that are still a puzzlement.

Katia and Maurice Krafft’s lives aimed towards benevolent understanding of the dangers that surround and captivate us. How lovely that these two humans, forged by the aftermath of war, decided to risk a voyage towards deeper fires not made by man – and yet their journey brings us back to our own human story, and ultimately a deeper embrace of love and life.

We all live close to dangerous and turbulent things called ego and culture, close to the pyroclastic flow. The clash of our own psychotectonic plates is in progress. I wrote in MOSF 15.2,

“May we breathe fire like Fuji-san, throw hot lava on this broken world, and make new and better land for our lives.”

Burning lava and choking ash are signs of the Earth’s life. They can and do kill us. But the lava of love, emerging from the uncertain drift of our human psyche and our deepest heart-wisdom, would be the surest sign of intelligent – and viable ­­– life on this tottering blue orb, threatened by flames of our own making.

From Disney’s “Lava”.

Photo by Bob Hsiang, 2022

Ravi Chandra is a psychiatrist, writer, and compassion educator in San Francisco, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. For fourteen years, he was lucky to have his MOSF posts published by the Center for Asian American Media, and is now at work broadening and building a diverse creative community and coalition through reflecting on culture and psychology for East Wind eZine. Sign up for updates here, and see all the posts here. He writes from the metaphorical intersection of The Fillmore and Japantown in San Francisco, where Black and Asian communities have mingled since the end of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. He literally works there, between two Indian restaurants, go figure. His debut documentary was named Best Film (Festival Director’s Award) at the 2021 Cannes Independent Film Festival. The Bandaged Place: From AIDS to COVID and Racial Justice is available on-demand, and with the discount code “Awake” you can get a 20% discount. His nonfiction debut, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, won the 2017 Nautilus Silver Award for Religion/Spirituality of Eastern Thought. You can find him on Psychology Today, MediumTwitterFacebook,  Instagram,  YouTube,  SoundCloud, or better yet, in the IRL.

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