The villain in Lebanon's new hit war movie: a cigar-smoking Israeli army colonel who sports a cowboy hat and a handlebar moustache and repeatedly orders troops to shell Lebanese villages. The heroes: residents of one such village who band together to fight Israeli troops.

The film, 33 Days, tells the story of the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah in one front-line village and glorifies "the resistance" shorthand among many Lebanese for Hizbollah and other groups that fight Israel.

The movie is unlikely to screen in Israel or the West. But in Lebanon, still officially at war with the Jewish state, it has drawn large crowds since opening on April 19.

Audiences often cheer when Hizbollah rockets smash into Israeli tanks, indicating the hatred still aimed across the border six years after a war that began with a cross-border Hizbollah raid and killed 160 people in Israel and about 1200 in Lebanon, reducing parts of south Beirut and many southern villages to rubble.


The film also reflects Iranian influence in Lebanon that goes beyond the sophisticated weapons it gives to Hizbollah, which has parlayed that support into a position as the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, dictating the makeup of the country's current government.

The film's director and much of its funding and crew came from Iran. Although Hizbollah played no official role in producing it, the film serves as a feature-length advertisement for the anti-Israel struggle.

Ali Bouzeid, chairman of the film's Lebanese production company, denied that the film is political, comparing it to footage of workers in a bank fighting off armed robbers.

"If I get the footage of that and show it, is that a political film?" he asked. "It's a reality that happened."

Others see it differently.

"These films strengthen the culture of resistance among people, encourage them and make them sympathise with the resistance in all of Lebanon," actor Bassem Mughniyeh said in a promotional video online.

Iran's quasi-governmental Farabi production company provided more than half of the film's $4 million budget, Bouzeid said. A Farsi-language version opened late last year in Iran, and the original Arabic is now showing in cinemas across Lebanon.

The film was shot in a 5000sq m set built to represent the south Lebanon village of Aita al-Shaab. Most of the set was destroyed in the film's production, just like the real village during the war.


The actors are Lebanese, Bouzeid said, but most of the crew were Iranian. With a focus on battle scenes, the filmmakers used more than 2000 extras, 30 Lebanese army vehicles and dozens of explosions, one of which wounded seven people.

The movie opens with blurry footage of Israeli troops panicking - apparently after Hizbollah crossed the border, killed three soldiers and captured two others, the event that sparked the war.

Cut to an Israeli military base: Colonel Avi, the villain, lights a cigar and orders troops to shell Aita al-Shaab, where the raid originated.

Then to the village itself, which is preparing for a wedding when word comes of the raid. The villagers mobilise for the Israeli response that soon arrives in a shower of shells. Some residents flee; the heroes remain.

One scene shows Um Abbas, a veiled Muslim woman, handing rifles to surprised young fighters.

A series of flashbacks soon reveal her history with Avi: He killed her son and husband years earlier, and she repaid him with a slash on his cheek, now a deep scar.

As Avi orders up more shelling, the casualties mount. A drone strike kills a man carrying medicine. After visiting his pregnant wife in an underground bunker, a leading fighter is surrounded by Israeli soldiers but detonates a hand grenade to kill himself and the Israelis.

Then the tide turns: Avi is addressing Israeli soldiers as a number of the nearly 4000 rockets that Hizbollah fired during the war fly overhead.

In Beirut's Abraj cinema during a recent screening, most of the 150 spectators burst into applause.

In the next scenes, roadside bombs and shoulder-fired missiles destroy Israeli tanks; village fighters rout an Israeli advance; and Umm Abbas emerges from a building with a sniper rifle as Avi falls dead in the street - all to huge applause.

Not all Lebanese like the film. Some reviewers criticised the script as too simple. Bassem Alhakim lauded its special effects, but faulted it for reducing the Israeli colonel's war aims to a personal vendetta.

"In the film, he did not come to carry out an Israeli plan to destroy Hizbollah and disband the resistance," he wrote in the Al-Akhbar newspaper.

But the audience at Abraj was pleased. Abu Asim Bazzeh, who brought his wife and three sons, aged 5, 12 and 14, praised the film. "What really impressed me was the determination of the resistance to hang on to their land and be victorious, because that is what happened."

When asked about his favorite part, his son Mahdi, 12, said, "the missiles".

- AP