Petar Ristovski, a renowned film director, embarked on a remarkable cinematic endeavor with his creation, “King Peter the First.” This cinematic masterpiece delves into the captivating life of King Petar Karadjordjevic the First, a prominent historical figure who reigned as the King of Serbia from 1903 to 1918, and later as the King of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians from 1918 to 1921.

Born in the vibrant city of Belgrade in 1844, Petar Karadjordjevic’s journey unfolds with great intrigue. Following the completion of his primary and secondary education in Belgrade, he ventured to the splendid landscapes of France, where he pursued his studies at a Military Academy. It was during this time that fate intervened, uniting him in matrimony with the charming Montenegrin Princess Zorka. Together, they shared a profound bond, blessed with the gift of five children who would come to shape the future.

A captivating movie still from “King Peter the First.”

In a pivotal twist of events, the year 1903 witnessed the May coup, propelling Petar Karadjordjevic to ascend the throne of Serbia. His reign was characterized by unwavering determination and a deep sense of duty to his beloved nation. In the tumultuous era of the Balkan wars, he showcased exceptional leadership skills, fearlessly guiding the Serbian army. Such remarkable feats earned him the enduring moniker of the “Serbian Liberator,” a testament to his unwavering commitment to his people and their aspirations for freedom.

The personal diary of King Peter

For his cinematic masterpiece, Ristovski drew upon a treasure trove of sources, including an insightful monograph and the personal diary of King Peter the First. These invaluable artifacts granted the director a glimpse into the enigmatic psyche of the ruler. From the diary’s pages emerged a captivating facet of King Peter’s persona—an unrelenting obsession with financial independence and an unwavering determination to avoid the shackles of indebtedness. The entries within the diary predominantly revolved around meticulous records of the dinars he owed to various individuals.

“The inspiration for the movie came from the life and work of King Peter, who was a complex personality with a turbulent life,” said Petar Ristovski.

“We mostly saw him as a soldier because that’s what he was before he became King. He was an ascetic who led a modest life. When he became King, he forbade all French dishes from being served at the royal house to reduce expenses. He believed that if people on the street did not have the means to buy and enjoy quality food, then quality food should not be consumed at the royal house,” he added.

Culture Editor of The Balkan Voice, Milos Rastovic, engages in a conversation with filmmaker Petar Ristovski. [Photo: The Pavlovic Today]

The King’s rationale was clear: if the people on the streets were unable to afford and relish quality food, it had no place within the royal household. In this manner, he sought to infuse the royal court with the traditions and customs of Serbia, extending his efforts to the upbringing of his children. These convictions endeared King Peter to the masses, earning him a plethora of endearing epithets such as “King of Pera,” “Old King,” and “Serbian Mother.” By adhering to Serbian customs and embracing a frugal lifestyle, he forged a deep connection with his people, fostering a sense of unity and shared values.

It’s actually better for a person to take a risk, make mistakes, and even feel afraid, but it’s crucial to put their ideas out there.

Petar Ristovski

“We depicted him in the film as an individual who incessantly grappled with whether the sacrifices made during the First World War were truly worthwhile for the freedom we ultimately attained. This inner turmoil becomes the crux of his character, “ said the filmmaker. Ristovski meticulously crafted King Peter’s struggle, brilliantly capturing the harrowing essence of a man torn between the weight of history and the soaring aspirations of a nation. 

“He struggled with himself because he was the one who was on the throne and was the ideal of the people; he considered himself responsible for every victim that fell in the war and felt it as a wound to himself. That was our film’s main idea: Were so many victims, one million and three hundred thousand people, worth paying for or not?”

Petar Ristovski on authenticity and sincerity 

The prominent actor Lazar Ristovski, Petar’s father, portrays King Peter the First in the movie. Petar expressed his gratitude for Lazar’s invaluable support and guidance, both in the context of the film and in life as a whole. Petar fondly reflected on his upbringing in the artistic household.

“Growing up with him and my mother Danica, who’s also an actress in the movie, I learned a lot about how a person should handle themselves and their ideas. It’s important to be honest in your intentions when you have an idea. You shouldn’t try to please the audience because they’ll see right through it and think it’s fake,” he said.

Petar Ristovski with his father, Lazar Ristovski. [Photo: promotional still]

“It’s actually better for a person to take a risk, make mistakes, and even feel afraid, but it’s crucial to put their ideas out there. That’s what being a genuine artist is all about. That’s the lesson I learned from my parents, “ said Peter.

“Another important aspect is that directors and actors need to have a strong bond because that’s the only way to bring out something from the actors that they might have never tapped into before—something fresh and profound. When there’s a deep connection of love between the director and the actors, it can spark a different kind of quality. These principles guided me throughout this project, and I must say, the actors truly delivered outstanding performances,” he revealed.

Petar Ristovski with his mother and actress Danica. [ Photo: The Pavlovic Today]

From Lazar, Petar gleaned the significance of treating one’s team with the utmost care and respect. “If your team sees that you genuinely care about giving your best, they’ll respond in kind,” he emphasized.

When your energy and enthusiasm are palpable, they become contagious.

Petar Ristovski

“As a director, it’s essential to lead by example, both on and off the set. When your energy and enthusiasm are palpable, they become contagious, and the entire crew follows suit. When everyone is infused with positive energy, it naturally translates into a remarkable outcome.”

Petar Ristovski’s cinematic portrayal of this extraordinary ruler’s life serves as a window into a bygone era, breathing life into the pages of history. Through meticulous attention to detail and a profound understanding of the human spirit, Ristovski’s direction transports audiences into the heart of Petar Karadjordjevic’s remarkable journey, capturing the essence of a man who shaped the destiny of nations.

Milos Rastovic is the Cultural Editor at the Balkan Voice.

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