a person in a tin astronaut-style suit walks in front of a wall of lava
Courtesy National Geographic

Or, The Life Volcanic with Katia and Maurice Kraftt. Indeed, aspects of Sara Dosa’s documentary about the Alsatian volcanologists (partners in life as well as study) naturally evoke elements of Wes Anderson’s twee 2004 hit: The pair frequently donned red knit caps on their adventures, and Maurice’s filmed recordings are often playfully affected in a manner redolent of the French New Wave. Less organically, Dosa’s own direction incorporates whimsical editing by Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput and that prevailing symptom of the contemporary documentary disease, interpretive animated sequences. Adding to the somewhat turgid effect are narration by indie darling Miranda July (her serene voice apropos yet still fulsome) and music by Nicolas Godin, one half of the French band Air. All of this, effective or not, is in service to the incredible story of Katia and Maurice, who traveled the world studying active volcanoes, taking photographs and recording live footage of the nettled ruptures from uncomfortably close proximity. The images that comprise much of this archival-based documentary are like something out of a Tarkovsky film; it succeeds in highlighting this tenet of their work, making it a valuable introduction not just to their unique lives and groundbreaking studies, but also to their own singular artistry. One also senses how impactful their work was, specifically as it helped convince the Philippine government that evacuation would be necessary after the onset of activity at Mount Pinatubo in 1991. The film goes into detail about the distinction between “red” and “gray” volcanoes, the latter being more deadly. The Kraftts focused on these toward the end of their lives; they eventually succumbed to their passion after being caught in a pyroclastic flow after the 1991 eruption of Mount Unzen in Japan. While overwrought at times, this documentary is nevertheless a testament to the beauty and brilliance of their craft, and to the preternatural devotion that compelled them. PG, 98 min.

Gene Siskel Film Center, Music Box Theatre, AMC Theatres