Siblings who put the sex in 'sexagenarian'

A documentary about two 69-year-old sisters has scandalised Holland. It's because they're prostitutes, says Geoffrey Macnab

It's a cold, winter afternoon. I am sitting in the Tuchisnki, an ornate but fading picture-palace in the centre of Amsterdam, flanked by two old whores. On my right hand side is the 69-year-old prostitute Martine Fokkens (who is still working). On my left is her identical twin sister Louise (who retired two years ago.) Both have little Chihuahuas perched on their shoulders. They're drinking warm and fizzy white wine and are in celebratory if somewhat maudlin mood. Thick-set and with white hair, they look like farmers' wives... and, disconcertingly, a little like the film director Ken Russell in his latter years. Both are extremely kindly ladies, with a solicitous, grandmotherly air. When I tell them that I have been feeling a little poorly, they both put their hands on my forehead.

The sisters are clearly delighted by the response to Meet the Fokkens (the new feature-doc telling their story). The film's premiere at the IDFA Festival in Amsterdam was not so much a red-carpet affair as a red light one. Many of their clients (who've grown old with them) attended, as did prostitutes and pimps . The sisters invited 250 people with links to the red light district and most turned up.

The film has provoked a strange mix of admiration and outrage. Some are appalled that the sisters are being given a platform. They accuse the film of glossing over the reality of prostitution; as Dutch society has become markedly less libertarian in recent years, their business is increasingly frowned on. Others point to the sisters' great good humour and their perseverance. They've had tough lives and yet they've made the best of their predicament. They formed a union for prostitutes. They ran their own brothel until the politicians closed them down, ostensibly because of unpaid taxes.

Why did they agree to appear in the film? Martine explains that she met the director, Rob Schröder, when she was tidying the gardens in the street where they both live. At first, she was suspicious of him. Then she relented, saying she might do the film but only if her sister was included as well. Louise agreed.

"We said yes because we wanted other people to see what was the life... what we were doing as whores," Louise explains. Over the years, the Fokkens have serviced a huge number of clients. They calculate that on an average day (not a busy one), they'd see about 10 men each. Multiply that by the number of years they've been on the game and the figure ratchets up into thousands. Their attitude toward sex is pragmatic. In the film, we see them buying bundles of condoms and comparing different makes of vibrators as if they are housewives out shopping for groceries. We see Martine with some of her clients, who are almost as old as she is, spanking them and playing the dominatrix or even singing them nursery rhymes. A few moments later, we see the sisters painting surprisingly vivid and accomplished pictures of old Amsterdam.

At the same time they were being filmed by Schröder and his co-director Gabrielle Provaas, the sisters were hard at work writing their memoirs (which have now been published and are doing well in the Dutch bestseller charts.) This flurry of activity hasn't been simply motivated by their desire to communicate what it is really like working in the oldest profession in the world. There is a commercial agenda too. Neither sister is rich. Documentaries don't make money but the sisters are hopeful that their memoirs may catch the public's imagination.

"We don't write the normal fuck. Everybody knows the normal fuck. In love or not in love. With the hands or not with the hands... that we don't have to write," Louise declares. If their memoirs are successful, Martine may finally be able to retire from a business she entered in the early 1960s.

Speak to them for a few minutes and you quickly realise that they are not as unscathed from their many years of prostitution as they may like to pretend. Louise, who had three children by the time she was 19, was badly beaten up by her husband, who forced her into prostitution to make more money. She had been trying to earn extra cash by making lampshades late at night after the children had gone to bed, but this wasn't enough for him.

Despite such grim revelations, Schröder, who is sitting in on the interview, insists that the documentary was made to counter the typical films about prostitution, which portray the women only as victims.

That's a role the Fokkens refuse to accept. They escaped from their husbands and pimps and went into business for themselves. The sisters ran their own brothel along co-operative lines. The authorities forced them out, but, in doing so, opened the way for criminal gangs to move in and take their place. The Fokkens couldn't afford lawyers and didn't know how to play the political system. When crippling tax bills arrived, they had no choice but to sell up.

"One of the most shocking things we learned while making the movie is how bad the social stigma of being prostitutes still is... it is even worse than you could imagine", says Provaas.

In the little street where Martine still works, everyone knows each other. If it is possible to retain your dignity when you are, in your late 60s, sitting in a window waiting for clients to come in and pay to have sex with you, Martine just about manages it.

The Fokkens' relatives have all seen the film. Louise tells very distressing stories about how her children were stigmatised and bullied because of her profession. The risk that Louise and Martine faced at the Meet The Fokkens premiere was that the grandchildren would turn against them.

"You are my grandmother. What you are doing I've had to think about but you are still my grandma and I love you," one grandchild told Louise after the film's premiere. "When I think about that, I could cry," Louise confides, a lump in her throat.

'Meet the Fokkens' premiered last month at the Idfa Festival in Amsterdam. It is likely to be shown in the UK in 2012

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own