Directed by: Tomasz Wiszniewski
In this post-Savile media world, nowadays, when a film involves a well-known male celebrity of a certain generation looking for a small boy, specifically a nine year old, questions begin to get asked. Thankfully this film was set in 1995, a more innocent time when we were blissfully ignorant.
‘Where Eskimos Live’ starts off like a Rough Guide to the Balkans travel show as Bob Hoskins endures riding in various uncomfortable modes of transport. Set in the mid-nineties when ethnic cleansing was all the rage, Hoskins wanders through war torn Bosnia, getting stopped at various military checkpoints by bucktoothed, AK toting, morally duplicitous soldiers. Since there were no rules back in Bosnia circa ’95, you don’t need much paperwork to get you across the country. We find out that Hoskins, who plays a character called Sharkey, is looking to get hold of a child, but we’re not completely sure why. He poses as a UNICEF worker, wearing the kind of pin badge you’d get in a welcome pack after promising to donate five pound a month to the organisation in monthly direct debits. Hoskins also carries a fetching UNICEF holdall, the kind you’d like get if you donated ten pounds a month.
Hoskins eventually runs into a pack of feral scallywags who have just used a landmine to blow up a military jeep. After they look through the wreckage and pick the pockets of the charred corpses, Hoskins negotiates with the eldest member of the group, and ends up getting what he wants – a nine year old orphan boy named Vlado who is keen to visit Norway, because that’s where he believes the Eskimos live. Although Hoskins tells the boy he isn’t from UNICEF, Vlado still chooses to stay by his side.
There are several sad aspects to this tale, most notably the fact that Bob Hoskins is out performed by a child actor. Sergiusz Zymelka plays Vlado perfectly, but as far as Hoskins character Sharkey. We’re not sure who he is, because there is no backstory, we don’t fully understand his motivations for over three quarters of the film, and it is almost impossible to tell where he is from, given that Hoskins accent veers all over the place. It could be argued that this is the worst film set during the Bosnian conflict since Owen Wilson’s vain attempt to be an action hero in ‘Behind Enemy Lines’.
When Sharkey and Vlado make it to Poland we are able to figure out that there is some kind of human-trafficking taking place, where young boys are of value in the adoption market. Yet because of the ham-fisted build-up we don’t understand why Hoskins would risk life and limb to steal away a boy from a war torn country when he could quite easily have taken advantage of any impoverished Eastern European country. It really does make no sense.
The atrocity of war is evident when Sharkey and Vlado encounter a number of dead bodies strewn all over the place, and impoverished children are either taken advantage off or left to fend for themselves. However something doesn’t click; this should in theory be a real tear jerker. It should shock and amaze us. The direction instead could almost be considered emotionally withdrawn, and because of this, we are kept at a distance. We skirt through the horror and don’t stop and analyze what is happening and why. I suppose there is a lack of context and given that the Bosnian conflict was incredibly complex, and that the scale of events such as the Srebrenica massacre were unimaginable in Europe post-WW2, perhaps it is understandable why the film chooses to focus on the adventures of a man of dubious character and an orphaned child and leave the conflict starkly in the background.