Directed by Rob Schröder, Gabrielle Provaas. 14A. 80 min. Opens Dec. 14 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
For over 50 years, twin sisters Martine and Louise Fokken have been working the cobblestoned streets of Amsterdam as prostitutes. Rob Schröder and Gabrielle Provass’s documentary examines why two such intelligent, driven, and resourceful women have persisted in putting out the red light and absorbing the stigma that comes with it.
What differentiates Meet the Fokkens from other documentaries about sex workers isn’t the novelty of its protagonists, although it does get some comic mileage by presenting the spectacle of the full-bodied, ruddy-cheeked Martine luring potential tricks away from younger competitors on her block. What’s refreshing is how the film resists the urge to transform the Fokkens into symbols of either triumphant entrepreneurship or cultural and economic entrapment. Instead of using their subjects to illustrate a general point about the indignity and ignominy of prostitution, Schröder and Provaas simply stay by their sides and listen to what they have to say.
As it turns out, the 70-year-old sisters are both excellent storytellers, and their anecdotes comprise an oral history of one of the world’s most notorious sex capitals (including tales about various religious figureheads eagerly participating in such extracurricular activities). There are moments when it feels like the filmmakers could have pushed their subjects more about the circumstances that led them into their line of work. But for the most part, Meet the Fokkens doesn’t suffer from holding back. It includes sequences of Martine at work in her rented flat, and these are bracingly matter-of-fact. Ultimately, though, the film is more memorable as a document of sisterly affection than a piece of working-girl portraiture. The casual way that Martine and Louise describe the men they’ve spent a significant portion of their lives servicing as “nice” offers a hint about their coping mechanisms; this dispassionate pose is offset by their fierce and finally overwhelming devotion to one another.