In the opening scene of Anatomy of a Fall, which took home the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes film festival, author Sandra (Sandra Hüller) is being interviewed about her work by a young student. Then they’re interrupted, as Sandra’s husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) starts blasting music, replaying one song over and over. And not just any music– a cover of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.”, by Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band.
The song ends up being central to the story of the film, in which Sandra’s husband ends up dead, having fallen from the roof of their chalet, and she is charged with his murder. He was clearly trying to annoy her by bumping this track. But did they argue before he plunged to his death? And could their son hear over the steel drums?
Another question: So how did this version of “P.I.M.P.”—a German funk ensemble’s jaunty steel-drum-accented take on a Caribbean-inflected 2000s rap classic—end up being so central to a French art film that conquered the Croisette? For starters, it wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice. Director Justine Triet says she and co-writer Arthur Harari originally planned on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” being the song that derails Sandra’s interview. They had even written an analysis of Parton’s lyrics into the courtroom scenes. But about a month before shooting, they realized they couldn’t get the rights. “We were really disappointed at the beginning,” Triet says.
Forced to abandon her first choice, Triet eventually landed on Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band’s cover of “P.I.M.P.,” from the group’s 2016 debut album 55. She was already a fan, and had been listening to it consistently for years. The song had to represent Samuel—who the audience only sees in flashbacks after he’s dead—and Triet thought it would be appropriate that he picks a relatively obscure cover that still keeps the “essence of the tune.” You can see how someone like Samuel—a teacher and wannabe writer who probably thought of himself as pretty cool—would be drawn to this version.
“I think the song is aggressive because we hear it a lot of times,” Triet says. “But it’s quite funny at the same time, no?”
In death, Samuel has a way of putting Sandra in absurd situations that play out as grimly funny onscreen. When the investigators are trying to reenact the discussion she and Samuel might have had before his fall to see if their son could have possibly discerned their tone, “P.I.M.P.” is played again and again.
Later, when Sandra is on trial, the prosecutor suggests that she might have had motive to murder Samuel because of the misogynistic lyrics. Her defense points out that it was an instrumental version. As soon as Triet and Harari knew that “P.I.M.P.” was going to be in the film, they knew they were going to have someone try to use it against Sandra, assuming she would be somehow triggered by the context behind the beats. “It’s very famous,” Triet says, adding that everyone knows the vixen-filled music video.
The other major piece of music in Anatomy is a Chopin prelude that Sandra and Samuel’s son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), practices repeatedly. Triet liked the juxtaposition between something that sounded more melancholy versus something that was something of a joke for the viewer. As she explains, Chopin is classical, and “P.I.M.P.” is a classic—just in a different way.