Perhaps the greatest challenge facing what is known as world cinema is the ability of stories to reach out beyond arthouse audiences and connect with those who, for whatever reason, have given such films a wide berth.

While 'Babel' is far removed from a star vehicle, hopefully the casting of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett will be the impetus for those unfamiliar with director Alejandro González Iñárritu's work to go and see it. It's just too good too miss.

Featuring four distinct but interlocking storylines, Iñárritu takes us around the world in his bid to show us that we all have more in common than we think - that pain and love are universal, the importance of emotional connections and the fact that nothing happens in a vacuum.

In a Moroccan village an American tourist (Pitt) tries desperately to get an air ambulance for his seriously injured wife (Blanchett).

High in the hills of the country two young boys (El Caid, Tarchini) are in terror of the police finding them.

Across the world in San Diego a Mexican nanny (Barraza) decides to take her clients' two children with her over the border to her son's wedding because there is no-one else to mind them.

In Tokyo a deaf-mute schoolgirl (Kikuchi) seeks to bury the pain of her mother's suicide by trying to lose her virginity.

In one split second all their lives become linked and their paths changed forever.

With his previous films 'Amores Perros' and '21 Grams', Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Ariaga showed themselves to be two of the most exciting new talents to break through in international cinema, but with 'Babel' they've gone to a whole other level. Whether it's combing human stories with political comment, giving all the actors a chance to shine or creating an experience which glides from beginning to end, what they have achieved here is stunning.

While much of the media interest has focussed on Pitt's involvement in what feels like a career crossroads film for him, he's not the real star of 'Babel'. The real stars are the people you've never heard of before but won't forget again: Barraza as the woman whose big day out turns into a nightmare, El Caid and Tarchini as the brothers whose youthful recklessness leads to tragedy and Kikuchi as the grieving girl whose predicament rips harder at the heartstrings with every scene.

If you're looking for something that won't tax your brain or happy ever afters this isn't the film to see. If you want your emotions hurled around, your views challenged and to be reminded of what you have - not haven't - in your own life, this is the film for you. Three weeks in to January and chances are you won't see anything better between now and 31 December.

Harry Guerin