“Stories are the only way people can absorb information in any depth,” Stephen Lussier, the recently retired executive vice-president of brands and consumer markets at DeBeers Jewelers, says in “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which one is allowed to wonder is something being said for his own benefit as much as anyone else’s. He admits he wouldn’t have given this interview to director Jason Kohn a few years earlier, but times have changed, particularly for the diamond business, which is undergoing a bit of an identity crisis as synthetic diamonds, produced in a lab rather than mined from the ground, are infiltrating the market, undetectable to all but the most expert evaluation and threatening to bring down prices of natural diamonds considerably when there’s no difference to the consumer, except of course as Lussier insists, the explanation of provenance that makes what one wears on their finger feel rare.
By the end of “Nothing Lasts Forever,” the stones are bound to be seem less precious, but the film itself is a gem, somehow not even needing to delve much into the exploitative history of diamond mining to upend the narrative around the business that’s been shaped by DeBeers and other jewelers over decades if not centuries. With ultra-wide framing that invites curiosity and scored in part with the mischievous compositions of Liz Ortolani (“Mondo Cane” and “Cannibal Holocaust”), the film is presented a bit like a heist thriller except it centers those in control of the house operations rather than attempting to break in, with diamond dealers sitting comfortably in New York and Botswana, having reaped the benefits of a business that has been solid since diamonds became synonymous with wedding rings. However, when the product is just “a repeating structure of atoms,” as physicist and synthetic enthusiast John Janik maintains, what people are buying are a fantasy created by advertising rather than anything of actual inherent worth and with the prospect of synthetic diamonds becoming mainstream, “Nothing Last Forever” cleverly unravels like an industry losing control over telling their own story as sit-down interviews give way to many of the subjects seen scrambling for self-preservation.
Still, for an image-conscious business, there’s plenty of showmanship on display in “Nothing Lasts Forever” and even amongst a bevy of fantastic personalities, two of the film’s least-known figures are bound to emerge as its biggest stars, with former jewelry designer and author Aja Raden appearing as if she’s just been waiting to be interviewed as she tells a very different story than most about market manipulation and Dusan Simic, a gemologist from Serbia taking center stage as his skill at evaluating diamonds is jeopardized by technological developments beyond the creation of synthetics. While Kohn never strays from a laser-like focus on diamonds, the film inevitably – and impressively – leads to thoughts of other industries undergoing contraction in this time of increasing automation and has their value proposition predicated more on emotional connection than a more tangible worth. As “Nothing Lasts Forever” picks apart the narrative that’s driven sales for generations, the one it ends up telling proves invaluable.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” will screen at Berlinale on February 12th at 9 pm at Cubix 7, February 17th at 9 pm at Cubix 5 and 6, and February 18th at 6 pm at Cubix 5 and 6. It will next screen at SXSW on March 12th at 2 pm at the Alamo Lamar C, March 14th at 7:15 pm at the Alamo Lamar D, and March 17th at 3:45 pm at the Violet Crown Cinema 1 and 4:15 pm at the Violet Crown Cinema 3.