CANNES, France (Reuters) - U.S. director Quentin Tarantino rolls a Western, gangster flick and wartime caper into one in "Inglourious Basterds," a new film starring Brad Pitt as the leader of a ruthless gang of Nazi-slayers. So fearsome is the band of Jewish-American "bastards" that Adolf Hitler himself comes to hear of them, and the violent and action-packed narrative weaves real life figures into a riotous and fanciful plot that re-writes history.
Most of the dialogue is in German and French and translated with subtitles, possibly limiting the film's box office potential in the United States.
But at the Cannes film festival, where Tarantino's picture is in the main competition, there was warm applause after a press screening on Wednesday.
"I am not an American film maker, I make movies for the planet Earth and Cannes is the place that represents that," said the 46-year-old, who won the Palme d'Or in Cannes in 1994 with "Pulp Fiction."
"During this time here on the Riviera, cinema matters, it's important," he told reporters, explaining why he rushed to have his movie ready in time for the world's biggest film festival.
Early reviews have been mixed.
Hollywood publication Variety's Todd McCarthy said the movie improved halfway through, "after which it's off to the races," but Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian called it a "catastrophe" and like "some colossal armor-plated turkey from hell."
Actress Angelina Jolie, wearing a pale pink dress baring one shoulder, walked the red carpet with her partner Pitt before the world premiere, and Sharon Stone added further glamour to a festival seen as light on A-list stars.
Tarantino declined to explain why he inserted spelling mistakes into the title of his film, borrowed from Italian director Enzo Castellari's 1978 picture "Inglorious Bastards."
The narrative opens in the first year of the German occupation of France, where character Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the execution of her family at the hands of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, flamboyantly played by Christoph Waltz.
Elsewhere in Europe, Pitt's character Aldo Raine forms a group of soldiers charged with scalping their Nazi victims.
Diane Kruger plays a famous German actress who is also an undercover agent on a mission to take down the leaders of the Third Reich. The strands converge on a small Parisian cinema where history is turned on its head in an explosive climax.
Much of the humor in Inglourious Basterds stems from language. Americans' reputations for speaking nothing other than English is a recurring theme, with Pitt's limited Italian comically exposed by the polyglot Landa.
Tarantino said he and Pitt had wanted to work together on a movie for some time.
"Artistically, me and Brad have been sniffing around each other for a while, the longing looks across the room and everything, the little notes: 'I like you, do you like me?'"
Pitt said he agreed to play Raine after discussing the part with the director long into the night.
"I got up the next morning and I saw five empty bottles of wine laying on the floor ... and something that resembled a smoking apparatus, I don't know what that was about," Pitt said.
"And apparently I agreed to do the movie because six weeks later I was in uniform and I was Lieutenant Aldo Raine."