Meet the Fokkens is the documentary by Gabrielle Provaas and Rob Shröder about Louise and Martine Fokkens, 69-year-old identical twins who have been working as prostitutes in Amsterdam’s Red Light District for the past fifty years. Even though her sister Louise stopped working two years before the filming of the documentary—due to an inability to “get one leg over the other”—Martine still works in the picture window of her small storefront, struggling to make ends meet just as she has her entire career. Even at her advanced age, Martine caters to men with a variety of fetishes, the likes of which most of us are too embarrassed to even speak about, let alone come face to face with, as Martine does each day, while remaining understanding, sympathetic and open-minded.
In the short, seventy minute documentary, the audience is treated to plenty of jokes at the expense of the sisters’ age and profession, but often this lighthearted approach can leave the viewer feeling empty, as though the film’s directors are intentionally missing the tragedy and poignancy that surrounds these women’s lives. The film attempts to stay as upbeat and optimistic as the Fokkens twins have remained throughout their long, difficult lives. It eschews the darkness creeping in at the edge of their story, in favor of its lighter aspects. The documentary is rife with humorous sexual antidotes; the sister’s colorful paintings, which both escape from and capture their day-to-day existence; and an unexplained religious group that offers to save Martine from her profession while failing to offer any real, tangible support. However, there is a deep sadness undercutting these indefatigably positive septuagenarians. Martine’s husband beat her and forced her into prostitution, while she struggled to care for her two infant children. Louise, disgusted by the way not only their community, but their own family treated Martine, decided to join her sister in the Red Light District. The two went on to liberate themselves from their pimps, run their own brothel, and create an informal trade union with their fellow ladies of the night. Despite these small victories, Martine is left in her old age still pedaling her goods, a fact she often reminds the filmmakers isn’t as abnormal as it seems. Many older women in Amsterdam’s prostitution trade are living from trick to trick, with not enough in their pension to cover any sort of retirement.
Meet the Fokkens is a captivating slice-of-life documentary that presents these sister’s history and profession without any sort of judgment, criticism or potential solutions. Martine and Louise Fokkens are a joy to watch, approaching every topic and situation with a frankness and candor that is refreshing and enchanting. Despite the pleasure of spending a little over an hour with these two warm, loving women, Meet the Fokkens often falters as a film, failing both to fully suppress or fully express the sadness that permeates not only these women’s lives, but the profession as a whole.
Director: Gabrielle Provaas & Rob Schröder
Writer: Gabrielle Provaas & Rob Schröder
Starring: Louise & Martine Fokkens
Release Date: Aug. 8, 2012