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Life Imitates Art Imitates Life

By Joanna Miller in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 7, 2006 9:43PM

It’s a familiar story. Boy meets girl. Boy follows girl to America. Boy and girl break up. Boy is broke and has to live in an airport. Well, sort of familiar. But it is a little bit like a movie, and everyone loves a good movie-come-to-life story. Basically, Marcel Macovei, 26, may have been living at O’Hare for about a week after spending more than a year in the country. He came here from Romania in December 2004 to get married, but the wedding never happened. With no money to get home, he ended up at O’Hare’s Terminal 5 between Feb. 21 and March 2.

Macovei’s Hollywood counterpart is Viktor Navorski, played by Tom Hanks, in 2004’s The Terminal. Navorski, a citizen of the fictional Krakozhia, is stranded at JFK when a coup takes place in his homeland, leaving him unable to return home or to stay in the U.S. Navorski, whose English is broken, is befriended by a few sympathetic airport employees and meets a beautiful stewardess, Catherine Zeta-Jones, who finds him sweet and charming. Obviously, hilarity/tenderness ensue.

But long before there was Navorski or Macovei, there was Merhan Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who has made his home at Charles de Gualle airport in Paris since 1988. Nasseri was kicked out of Iran for protesting against the shah and wound up at Charles de Gualle with no documentation. As of December 2005, he was still there and is known to airport employees as “Sir Alfred.”

DreamWorks reportedly paid Nasseri $250,000 for the rights to his story for The Terminal, although it was not the first role he inspired. The Refugee, a character in Jonathan Dove’s 1998 comic opera, Flight, is also based on Nasseri. Flight has been performed throughout Europe and the United States.

And thus concludes Chicagoist’s recap of men living in airports and their portrayals on the screen and stage. If we’ve missed anything, please do let us know.