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Warm-hearted and entertaining, if more sad than its quirky premise suggests, Rob Schröder & Gabriëlle Provaas‘s Meet the Fokkens is better summed up by a literal translation of its Dutch title: Old Whores. Even after its initial comedy subsides, the doc earns enough goodwill to generate positive word-of-mouth in an arthouse run.
Louise and Martine Fokkens are 70 year-old identical twins who have been fixtures in Amsterdam’s Red Light District for half a century. Age and increasing fleshiness haven’t tamed them: Though Louise has stopped turning tricks to paint primitively erotic artwork, Martine still goes to work — dragging an arsenal of sex toys to her tiny storefront, where loyal customers come to be spanked and massaged.
The sisters are eye-catching, to be sure — strolling around in identical outfits that lean toward loud colors and leather accents — and are pleasingly photographed in picturesque Amsterdam neighborhoods. Decades ago, they stopped worrying about having passersby guess their profession: Though they were forced into prostitution by Louise’s husband, they eventually broke with him and started their own brothel; they even helped unionize red-light workers.
Schröder and Provaas happily provoke any viewer who’s squeamish about the sexuality of the elderly: We are treated not only to long anecdotes about the Fokkens’ career — stories both graphic and, as with a tale of an abandoned confessional and some randy priests, comic — but to surprisingly explicit (if wholly unarousing) footage of Martine plying her trade today.
The storytelling turns poignant as it moves from yesteryear’s X-rated hijinks to the passage of time. We meet Louise’s grown daughter, who grew up in a foster home, and come to understand that Martine is still working not because she enjoys it but because she can’t afford to quit. Missionaries visit her workplace routinely, offering to help her extricate herself, and when she’s alone she can’t help resenting the thin, young foreign-born girls who have taken over her block.
The idea of judging these women never occurs to the filmmakers, nor do they really seem to be courting our sympathy. Their tone is lively but neutral, well suited to subject matter unusual enough to speak for itself.
Production Company: Submarine
Directors: Rob Schröder, Gabriëlle Provaas
Producers: Bruno Felix, Femke Wolting
Directors of photography: Wiro Felix, Rob Schröder
Music: Danny Malando
Editor: Sander Vos
No rating, 80 minutes.
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