An elderly woman, plump and with a tiny dog tucked under her arm, is taking the air on Amsterdam’s cobbled streets. With a face as cheerful as her attire – pink hat, orange scarf – the lady strolls past the shopkeeper so properly hosing down his sidewalk, then walks with a purpose into her local drugstore. She could be your grandmother. Gosh, given my Dutch surname, she could definitely have been my grandmother, at least until granny marches up to the counter, greets the proprietor with a familiar smile, and breezily requests: “A large box of condoms, please.”
Meet the Fokkens, indeed. In this documentary case, meet Martine Fokken, an unrepentant whore with a heart of gold. Unrepentant and, at 69, unretired too. We follow her, toting that fresh purchase, to her windowed office in the red-light district, where she changes into her work clothes – a see-through negligee – and, humming merrily, sits down to await the afternoon rush, tapping on the pane with her pinkie ring to halt the passing tourists. No one stops. Alas, it’s a slow day for an old tart, all window and no opportunity.
It gets odder. Since she’s an identical twin, to meet Martine is to meet Louise. Not surprisingly, the siblings share the same sunny personality and taste in gaudy floral prints. More surprisingly, the oldsters also shared the oldest profession. Louise called it quits a mere two years ago – apparently, rheumatism is a slight impediment to giving those tricks a full turn. She paints now. Naturally, in her off hours, so does Martine.
From there, co-directors Gabrielle Provaas and Rob Schroder pick up the sisters checking out the latest sex toys (“We’re a bit out of touch”); hiking up those matching frocks at the beach; and facing the camera to laughingly, always laughingly, compare war stories. The men are beyond number: “Countless, cruise ships full.” And the ships even contained priests, chaplains, rabbis: “I think one came when he was praying.” The women are proud of their trademark philosophy, offering not just sex but affection too, “unlike the young ones today.” Neither seems to harbour many complaints; however, given a second chance at life, neither would ever do it again.
Archival photos, black-and-white and dog-eared, return us to the point when the choice was first made. At 19, Louise had three kids and an abusive husband: “He literally beat me into the red-light district.” Immediately, family and friends shunned her. So complete was her ostracism, so lonely her existence, that she can say in retrospect, without a trace of irony: “I felt like a nun.” Only her twin sympathized and, seemingly from a sense of solidarity, joined her. In fact, they soon turfed out their pimps to “start up shop independently.”
Admittedly, matters get a bit tedious when Louise and her daughter bicker over remembrances of things past. And although Martine’s work ethic is certainly to be applauded, I could have done without the scenes that offer graphic proof of her undiminished skills. Still, despite the occasional stumble, the doc never falls, thanks to the sheer strength of its subjects’ undaunted and indomitable character. What’s more, not only have they endured one career but, scurrying about, delivering posters, they’re about to start another.
The posters herald an upcoming art show. Sure enough, the night arrives and there the twins are – in a crowded gallery behind a bigger window, their paintings on the wall, champagne in their hands and, once again, prospective buyers eyeing their wares. Anything sold earns a sticker. Bright red, of course.
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