Momo or The Men in Grey (1986)

Watching the video, More, with the grey misshapen men shuffling about their assembly-line and robotic tasks on the factory floor, and the colourless grey tall generic city buildings, I have memories of an old movie from a long time ago flashing across my mind, scenes with mysterious grey men going about their mysterious soul-robbing work and ways in a drab grey city…but I just couldn’t remember what movie it was.

It came to me suddenly just now, and brought a smile to my face. One of those children’s foreign films I watched a very long time ago, born of a children’s book and author with a mind and imagination that was out of this world and so delightful.

The German fantasy and children’s author, Michael Ende, and his 1973 novel, Momo or The Men in Grey:

Momo, also known as The Grey Gentlemen or The Men in Grey, is a fantasy novel by Michael Ende, published in 1973. It is about the concept of time and how it is used by humans in modern societies. The full title in German (Momo oder Die seltsame Geschichte von den Zeit-Dieben und von dem Kind, das den Menschen die gestohlene Zeit zurückbrachte) translates to Momo, or the strange story of the time-thieves and the child who brought the stolen time back to the people. The book won the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in 1974.

In the ruins of an amphitheatre just outside an unnamed city lives Momo, a little girl of mysterious origin. She came to the ruin, parentless and wearing a long, used coat. She is illiterate and can’t count, and she doesn’t know how old she is. When asked, she replies, “As far as I remember, I’ve always been there.” She is remarkable in the neighbourhood because she has the extraordinary ability to listen — really listen. By simply being with people and listening to them, she can help them find answers to their problems, make up with each other, and think of fun games. The advice given to people “go and see Momo!” has become a household phrase and Momo makes many friends, especially an honest, silent street-cleaner, Beppo, and a poetic, extroverted tour guide, Gigi (Guido in some translations).

This pleasant atmosphere is spoiled by the arrival of the Men in Grey, eventually revealed as a race of paranormal parasites stealing the time of humans. Appearing in the form of grey-clad, grey-skinned, bald men, these strange individuals present themselves as representing the Timesavings Bank and promote the idea of “timesaving” among the population: Supposedly, time can be deposited to the Bank and returned to the client later with interest. After encountering the Men in Grey, people are made to forget all about them but not about the resolution to save as much time as possible for later use. Gradually, the sinister influence of the Men in Grey affects the whole city: life becomes sterile, devoid of all things considered time-wasting, like social activities, recreation, art, imagination, or sleeping. Buildings and clothing are made exactly the same for everyone and the rhythms of life become hectic. In reality the more time people save the less they have; the time they save is actually lost to them. Instead, it is consumed by the Men in Grey in the form of cigars made from the dried petals of the hour: lilies that represent time. Without these cigars the Men in Grey cannot exist.

Momo, however, is a wrench in the plans of the Timesaving Bank thanks to her special personality. The Men in Grey try various plans to take care of her, derailing her from stopping their scheme, but they all fail. When even her closest friends fall under the influence of the Men in Grey in one way or another, Momo’s only hope to save the time of mankind is the personification of Time Professor Secundus Minutus Hora (Second Minute Hour) and Cassiopeia, a tortoise which can communicate through writing on her shell and can see thirty minutes into the future. Momo’s adventure will take her from the depths of her heart, where her own time flows from in the form of lovely hour-lilies, to the lair of the Men in Grey themselves, where the time people believe they save is hoarded.

Ah, I remember little Momo and Beppo and Guido. And the ‘special effects’ used in this non-Hollywood 80s foreign film: every time the Grey Men makes another score and steals the Time of yet another victim, another grey building sprouts up in the city and another Suit and Soul is claimed.

Momo (Trailer):

Momo -The Movie (in english language) 1986:


2 thoughts on “Momo or The Men in Grey (1986)

  1. That’s what I thought too a few years ago, surveying the bleak grey world around me. But now, I think not. We have not used up all the Happy/Bliss/Magic/Colour/Child in us…
    There is a Momo somewhere in every one of us.

    “Have we outgrown our Peter Pan and wings…
    We’ve simply grown too old for tales of knights and kings”

    Life is a constant change, but Magic is in the air, and we all can be Peter Pans once again, dancing and flying with our Wendy Darlings…

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