An unruly bunch of Russians
In De overtreder (The Transgressor), Marente de Moor paints a compassionate picture of the world of East Europeans who ended up in Amsterdam in the 1990s, fumbling drunks and street vendors who spend the day in fine tales and vodka. A discussion about national identity and the meaning of borders underlies this layer of anecdotes about bohemian lives. A Russian in Amsterdam is still a Russian. Borders don’t really exist.
Vitali Kirilov was a corporal on the Finnish-Russian border, until one of his soldiers deserted. Vitali didn’t shoot him as he skied rapidly away - except at his tracks - and that led to his demotion. He endured the rest of his military service in a barren place near the border with Norway.
After leaving the army, he was haunted by a dream about the soldier and his large padded bottom, but he forgot the name of the soldier. About ten years later, in 1993, he left for the West in search of the soldier. His destination was Amsterdam, home of his cousin Ilja. His culture shock began with misreading road signs, leading him to Hoek van Holland instead. Eventually he reached Amsterdam and joined the Amsterdamski, a colourful bunch of Russians living in town, all intending to start a new life, but homesick and longing for the smell of ‘whitebait and sausage’, unable to get away from Russia. We meet an amazing collection of East Europeans: a drinking brass band which plays in the arches under the Rijksmuseum; Leopold and his curious diet of raw onions, olive oil and lemon juice, and woolly Tjoma, who believes in hippy hero Carlos Castaneda.
This world, lively rendered by De Moor, is dominated by drink. A Russian needs alcohol because, as one of the Russians explains, without it he would suffer vertigo because of the depth of his own soul.
Vitali earns a living by selling painted copies of cityscapes drawn by his friend, the sombre Roman. He sleeps in an old squat destined for demolition, where two of his pill-popping fellow countrymen fight.
De Moor successfully paints the differences in attitude between the Russians and the Dutch, particularly when Vitali gets a Dutch girlfriend. His original search for the soldier fades into the background, until he finally boards a ship for St Petersburg. Once aboard, he suddenly remembers the name of the soldier and discovers what probably happened to him.