Gravitas Ventures
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Cast: Ilaria Montagnani (producer), Gabriella Montagnani, Elizabeth Deluca, Omar Sandoval, Lorenzo Montagnani
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/9/21
Opens: July 20, 2021

When you get a chance, take a look at Ilaria Montagnani’s arms. Actually you can’t fail to see them, because Montagnani, who produced this project, is in virtually every frame. She has muscles in these arms that could make Arnold Schwarzenegger envious. The only problem is this: during our Covid pandemic, how do you get a Pfizer needle into that left arm? Would the needle break trying to penetrate a rock-hard specimen?

“Stronger for Life” is not about exercise alone. It’s a segment of an amazing woman’s life. It deals with her love of family and her family’s reciprocal feelings for her. It’s a look at a woman who until she reached middle age had never seen a doctor; she never took a mammogram. We can understand that someone who is at the top of the fitness ladder would think herself as immortal as a teenager. But physical shape though you may be, life throws things at you. She received a diagnosis of breast cancer, put her head into her arms, and may have thought though life was not over, she might lose her profession.

That profession, which requires top strength and agility, involves teaching young and middle aged men and women (from what I see) the principles and practices of Laido, or Japanese sword fighting. The full assemblage of students in this film—she has trained over 42,000—hold would-be swords in both hands and swing. They also deliver punches rapidly into the air, activities that can raise a sweat and appears to enable her classes at the Upper West Side branch of Equinox to find inner peace while participating. Because of her popularity with five daily classes of training, she was awarded the Equinox life’s achievement award.

Now for the film’s poignance. When diagnosed in 2016 with breast cancer, she had surgery done at Mount Sinai West hospital, a six-hour procedure that she endured like a champion. Her mother, a resident of Florence, Italy, traveled to the hospital to become her helper, raising her spirits, tending to her care more than any nurse could hope to do. Months later, while still working on the simple job of raising her arms over her head, she had her training assistants take over the classes while she remained a presence.

All is filmed. Her trips to Florence and back. Her home, where her mother lovingly carves vegetables and creates a tomato reduction, putting it into a jar that Ilaria carried back to New York. When her father is diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, she remained, filming a session of his chemotherapy.

During her twenty years of training students in what she calls Powerstrike, she has been interviewed on Good Morning America, The Martha Stewart Show, The Dr. Oz Show, and news channels. The Wall Street Journal called her a leading force in the fitness world. See the movie and make the resolution: “I will devote an hour a day to physical exercise.” We profit from movies like this, hopefully sitting not as mere passive spectators but motivated to do at least a segment of what 42,000 Powerstrikers have done.

85 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical –B+
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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