The story takes place during the 1920s, and it follows an actor George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin) through his personal struggle as Hollywood transitions from silent film to the talkies. The film was beautifully shot - silently with subtitles - in black and white.
At first, the premise of this film reminded me strongly of The Jazz Singer, a movie that actually dates to 1927 and conveys the crisis of modernism as the era of silent film wanes away. The Jazz Singer has a decidedly-depressing ending, as the main character's professional ambitions ultimately cannot overcome the expectations of his family and of society. In contrast to this tragic ending, The Artist distinctly chooses to end positively. While, at first, George attempts to combat the advent of the talkies by creating his own films, he eventually learns that he must perform in the talkies if he wishes to continue the work that he loves. He does not, however, succumb to speaking and forges his own path by dancing across the screen. I found it utterly inspiring that the artist could continue to be himself in spite of the transforming world around him.
The film's enduring message would be nothing, though, without the sheer artistry and beauty of its' imagery. The music, choreography, stunning black and white shots, and the ability of the actors to perfectly imitate the mannerisms of 1920s silent film will certainly guarantee The Artist a flurry of Academy Award nominations. What a breath of fresh air from the digitized, 3D images that now characterize the movies of the 21st century! I cannot recommend this film enough.