Searching for the 4th Nail Provides Limited Insight into Gypsy Life

It's hard to believe that Americans of Romani heritage (better known as Gypsies) still suffer social alienation. And Searching for the 4th Nail, a documentary that tries to explain the history of Gypsies while providing insight into their struggle for survival and respect, doesn't really convince you that the alienation is real, at least for the younger generation. The 4th Nail, directed by George Eli, a Gypsy himself, does succeed, though, in explaining some of the mysteries of the culture by using examples from his life, conversations with family, and quotes from experts, including an interview with Ian Hancock and a recorded speech by Hillary Clinton. Intimate details about using milk crates for chairs and eating with newspapers as plates offer viewers concrete images of the community's hardship and combat Gypsy stereotypes that they're all witches and thieves — in fact, the film title comes from that ubiquitous tall tale that a Gypsy stole the fourth nail intended for Jesus' heart during his Crucifixion. Searching for the fourth nail becomes an exercise in trying to find what ails the Gypsy community, from centuries of oppression to a lack of education. Especially alarming is footage that encapsulates both issues as it shows Romani converting by the dozens to Christian evangelism; some of the Gypsies' self-loathing and ignorance of their heritage runs so deep, even in the new millennium, that they're willing to give up their rich traditions because they're "cursed." Unfortunately, insightful, powerful moments like these are short and fairly rare in Eli's film. The rest of the work is monopolized by the director's oversimplified critiques and a disjointed narrative that instead of diving deeply into one or two aspects of Romani struggles grazes the surface of various problems without ever getting to the heart of the issue.

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