Much like a diamond, a good documentary has a lot more than meets the eye. Even the world’s most fascinating subject matter can become tedious in the wrong hands, and director Jason Kohn clearly understands the need for a good story and compelling interview subjects, delivering on both in his gripping documentary “Nothing Lasts Forever.” By turns engaging and flashy, the film probes the narratives propping up the multi-billion dollar diamond industry and posits that it’s all a house of cards. With a peppy original score, a flurry of colorful characters, and a disruptive subject matter, “Nothing Lasts Forever” is an invigorating study of how myths are made.
Rather than expose the inhumane practices of the mining industry, which is well-traveled terrain, “Diamonds Last Forever” sets its sights on the power players up the chain who are inflating the value of the naturally occurring stones. The film opens with staticky archival footage of diamond commercials, stilted scenes of coiffed women selling eager men on bigger and bigger diamonds. Setting its sights on international diamond company De Beers, the film reminds us of the famous line that may soon become a lie — “Diamonds Are Forever” — a hugely successful marketing ploy from De Beers that became universally believed.
The story is framed as a David and Goliath tale (with a touch of mystery thrown in), constructed around four key players whose influence in the industry varies widely. On the side of truth-telling is Dusan Simic, a kind-hearted scientist or “gemologist” who discovered that synthetic diamonds were quickly becoming indistinguishable from natural ones. When he tried to alert the industry, he was largely ignored, and new technology made his skills obsolete. Tireless in his mission, the scope of what he’s up against snaps into stark focus when we see him driving an Uber, explaining his work to indifferent passengers.
The film’s standout source is jewelry designer and author Aja Raden, who radiates charisma with dramatic turns of phrase and a highly attuned bullshit meter. With the skill of a master storyteller, she doles out provocative pearls of wisdom, connecting the dots with a poetic flourish. At times, it can feel like she’s intentionally speaking in riddles. “The diamond was always a lie, so the synthetic diamond is a lie about a lie,” she says. “If you can’t tell the difference, the difference doesn’t exist.” A natural scene stealer, Raden’s appearance in the film should inspire a well-deserved sales boost for her book, “Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World.”
On the other side of the coin are De Beers CEO Stephen Lussier and diamond pricer Martin Rapaport, whose mere appearance in the film Raden says is a sign of weakness, or at least of changing times. Somewhat media trained, Lussier hardly breaks from the company line, though it’s hard to take him seriously once he claims De Beers is an “African company.”
With his excitable speech patterns and old-world views, Rapaport is a far more dynamic figure. His insistence that “diamonds are under threat because the role of the man and the woman are under threat” is not only an incredible self-own, but reveals what Raden might call “the lie behind the lie behind the lie.” The thread of his logic unravels so quickly he goes so far as to claim: “The diamond dream is about relationships. We don’t want to die alone.”
Kohn allows the audience to draw their own conclusions, but includes the perfect sound bytes to complete the puzzle. From an interview with synthetic diamond maker John Janik, he shrewdly includes a needed reminder that “the concept of romantic love is only 150 years old.” Just as synthetic diamonds call into question the value of natural ones, a collapsing diamond market casts doubt on the whole idea of the engagement ring and its promise of everlasting love.
Traveling the world in pursuit of its subjects, “Nothing Lasts Forever” weaves its disparate parts together with a killer original score by Logan Nelson. Throughout various tunes, the jaunty orchestral compositions wouldn’t feel out of place in a Bond film, or the opening credits of the next “House of Cards.” Like Raden’s winning energy, the music is another layer of artistry that elevates the film beyond its obviously thorough research and access. Synthetic or organic, it gives “Nothing Last Forever” that extra bit of shimmer.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.