Review: Café Society



DIR/WRI: Woody Allen • PRO: Letty Aronson, Edward Walson • DOP: Vittorio Storaro • ED: Alisa Lepselter • DES: Santo Loquasto • CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell

That time of year has come again where Woody Allen dishes out another film about neurotic socialites. His proficiency at adhering to a scheduled annual release since 1982 would be awe-inspiring if his filmography didn’t also continually exemplify how axiomatic it is to favour quality over quantity. If hard pressed to name the last Woody Allen film that not only was great as a film but stood to demonstrate why he deserved such a lauded reputation, the answer would have to be Crimes and Misdemeanours all the way back in 1989. However, does anyone really care that he hasn’t made a brilliant film in nearly 30 years? Now, at 80 years old, Woody Allen’s films don’t matter anymore even to him, only as far as he can continue to make them without interference. Critically speaking, that puts Café Society in a difficult spot. Depending entirely on a person’s particular affection for Woody Allen’s style, Café Society is either a serviceably passable crowd-pleaser or an underwhelming and lazy outing from a once great director.

Café Society, at its very heart, is a love story in the classical Hollywood tradition. Jesse Eisenberg plays the young, naïve, and overwrought Bobby Dorfman who has just stepped into tinseltown in hopes of becoming a big success. His infatuation with Hollywood glamour quickly dissipates but Bobby becomes smitten by a young woman named Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who seems to be the only unpretentious one left in L.A. A romance quickly blossoms between the two, but Vonnie secretly has been having an affair with Bobby’s uncle (Steve Carell) for whom they both work. An increasing confliction affects Vonnie as she continues to see both men, unsure of whether to marry for love or financial certitude. Suddenly, when Bobby finds out about his uncle and Vonnie, a decision must be made about who she wants to spend the rest of her life with.

Ever since the 2012 documentary on his life, it’s become somewhat common knowledge that Woody Allen’s stories derive from scribbled ideas on yellow pages which he stuffs in his bedside locker. It seems as though Café Society had just one idea on its page, in a two-minute scene which concludes the film and which serves as the emotional centre of the entire story. It’s undoubtedly a satisfying payoff, one of the most inspired moments of the film, but it makes the preceding hour and a half feel unpolished and extremely lacking.

The themes, the jokes, even the common highbrow references are unignorably perfunctory this time around. Café Society tries to embrace the romantic and fantastical quality of Hollywood films from long ago, but it’s inconsistent. Sometimes the surrounding nature of the young couple in love will create a boarder that captures the lovers as if they were in a gorgeous frame in a picture gallery. Sometimes cinematography and blocking is so bland that it looks as though Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are simply reciting their lines before the actual take. Music is especially grating because of how unusually uninspired it is for a Woody Allen film. In Hannah and Her Sisters, Rodgers and Hart’s famous “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” is used as a recurring motif that reflects the inner turmoil facing characters who become enamoured by one another while feeling an overwhelming responsibility to commit to the partner they married or chose. In Café Society, Rodgers and Hart’s famous “Manhattan” is used as a recurring motif because, well, the story takes place in Manhattan eventually. Such decisions made in music and other parts of the film are not necessarily bad choices, just especially lazy and uninteresting.

Acting feels particularly stilted and awkward this time around. Part of the reason for this, possibly, is due to the new visual formatting in which the film is shot. Café Society marks Woody Allen’s first foray into digital filmmaking and there’s a clear unease with the transition. Allen’s affection for classical Hollywood alongside the story’s demand for a more archaic and exaggerated style in performance creates a jarring disconnect with the digital quality of the frame. Scenes can often feel artificial when it tries to be realistic. There are two standout performances, however, that transcend this hurdle. Firstly, Corey Stoll as Bobby’s Mafioso brother, showcasing an actor who can often play tough men with brilliantly comic exaggeration when given the right role as Corey has been given here.

The true star, however, is Kristen Stewart. Stewart has often been maligned for her acting style and if anything can be unequivocally suggested about her post-Twilight career is that she’s made every effort to divest her former reputation. Stewart charms her way through every scene of Café Society. She performs effortlessly with a zestful energy that has been missing from many actresses preceding her who have stepped into the women that Woody Allen writes. Vonnie, as a character, doesn’t quite suit Kristen Stewart’s performance style but she conveys such emotion through Vonnie that the dissonance is eventually forgotten.

Café Society is not a terrible film by any means and surpasses the recent waning quality of Woody Allen’s late career. It still wouldn’t be considered good though. It’s an unimpressively mediocre romantic comedy that has enough little things to save it from being boring, but the clear lack of effort can be frustrating for those who expect more from a film by Woody Allen.

Michael O’Sullivan

96 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Café Society is released 2nd September 2016

Café Society – Official Website



Magic in The Moonlight


DIR/WRI: Woody Allen • PRO: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Alisa Lepselter  • DES: Anne Seibel  • CAST:  Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden

Woody Allen continues a routine which he’s more or less kept up for over 40 years, which is to write and direct a movie every year. This amazingly prolific output comes with some downsides however, mainly that the movies can be hit and miss. Last year’s Blue Jasmine was certainly a hit, owing a lot to Cate Blanchett’s Oscar winning performance. Unfortunately, this year’s effort Magic in The Moonlight must go down as a miss.

The storyline of the film, set in 1928, revolves around an American family who summer in the south of France, and who have become extremely taken with a young spirit guide named Sophie, who claims to be able to read peoples futures and contact the dead. Some close relatives of the family are convinced the girl is a con artist, and hire a well-known magician to catch her out. Unable to do so, the astounded magician recruits his world famous colleague Stanley Crawford, to find her out. Crawford, as well as being a world class magician is also a debunker of mystics. He is an extremely cranky and pessimistic man, but warms to Sophie despite himself, and starts to realise that maybe  there is more to life than meets the eye.

Colin Firth is the latest delivery system for Woody’s pessimistic worldview, playing the lead role of Stanley Crawford who refuses to indulge in anything only the cruel harsh realities of life. It seems like a role that Allen would have played himself if he were younger, but Firth does his best with the material. Emma Stone is perfectly likeable and cute opposite Firth, although due to an uncharacteristically poor script, neither of the characters are drawn out well enough for us to care about them, or to believe in their romance.

Allen has made many soirees into Europe in the last 15 years, with some noticeable successes, including Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Match Point. This film will not join the ranks of the aforementioned films, but remains a watchable, and mildly amusing film, and will tick a lot of boxes for fans of Allen’s neurotic brand of romantic comedy. It just feels to me like something we’ve seen many times before.

Michael Rice

PG (See IFCO for details)

97 minutes

Magic in The Moonlight is released 19th September 2014

Magic in The Moonlight – Official Website



Cinema Review: To Rome with Love

DIR: Woody Allen WRI: Woody Allen PRO: Faruk Alatan, Letty Aronson,
Giampaolo Letta, Stephen Tenenbaum DOP: Darius Khondji ED: Elise
DuRant DES: Anne Seibel Cast: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Penelope
Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Roberto Benigni, Greta Gerwig

Acclaimed as one of the great New York filmmakers, Woody Allen has
made a habit of searching outside his native city for inspiration in
recent years. Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream and You Will Meet
a Tall Dark Stranger were all filmed in London, and he also ventured
to some of Europe’s most exotic locales for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
and Midnight in Paris.

His sojourn in the French capital proved to be fruitful, as not only
was Midnight in Paris a major awards contender (Allen won his fourth
Oscar® for the film’s screenplay), but it was a surprise box-office
hit, raking in upwards of $150 million worldwide.

It is therefore no surprise to see the veteran helmer remaining in
Europe for his latest film, To Rome with Love, which, despite lacking
the invention or lasting appeal of Midnight in Paris, is a perfectly
acceptable addition to Allen’s canon.

Allen himself makes his first appearance since 2006’s Scoop, appearing
in one of four vignettes as Jerry, a retired opera director who
feels the urge to get back in the saddle when he hears his prospective
brother-in-law (tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower, but has
to think outside the box when he realises that he is not as
accomplished under normal circumstances.

Elsewhere, Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi are young
newlyweds who become separated in their new city, and fall into the
company of a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) and a movie star (Antonio
Albanese) respectively; Life is Beautiful‘s Roberto Benigni is an
ordinary Joe Soap who wakes up one day to discover that he has become
famous for no apparent reason; while the final story (in chronological
terms) finds Alec Baldwin’s famed architect dishing out relationship
advice to young protege Jesse Eisenberg as he struggles to choose
between his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) and her best friend,
played by Ellen Page.

All of the stories do work quite well on an individual basis, and
there are some familiar Allen traits that are clear for all to see.
The subject of infidelity (which has played a major part in his recent
films) is a common theme throughout, and Baldwin’s inexplicable
appearances during the scenes with Eisenberg and Page brings back fond
memories of the Allen-starring Play it Again, Sam when Humphrey Bogart
was the imaginary mentor for the film’s protagonist.

It is also interesting that he has chosen to give equal share in terms
of screen time to the Italian stars, with Benigni enjoying a welcome
return to mainstream cinema after a 10-year gap, and bright
young things Tiberi and Mastronardi making for an engaging screen

Overall, the film works better as a series of moments rather than as a
wholly satisfying picture, and there is certainly no danger of To Rome with Love
ever challenging films like Manhattan, Annie Hall, Sleeper
or Love and Death as one of his very best.

However, as a comedy, the film does succeed on a number of levels, and
there are plenty of laughs to be had along the way. Allen, despite
giving himself a limited enough role on this occasion, has some
trademark zingers and one-liners that only he could deliver, and
Baldwin is in his prime 30 Rock form throughout, stealing every scene
that he is in with plenty of gusto and no little verve.

For those expecting Allen to repeat the winning formula that
brought such attention towards Midnight in Paris, they will probably be
left disappointed by his latest film, but for those who still hold a
fondness for his ‘early, funny ones’ and are looking for something
that will help to pass the time in an agreeable manner (as well as
something with a penchant for absurdity), then they might well find
something to enjoy in To Rome with Love.

Daire Walsh

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
111 mins

To Rome with Love is released on 14th September 2012

To Rome with Love – Official Website


Cinema Review: Woody Allen – A Documentary


DIR/WRI/PRO: Robert B. Weide • DOP: Neve Cunningham, Anthony Savini, Nancy Schreiber, Bill Sheehy, Buddy Squires • ED: Karoliina Tuovinen, Robert B. Weide •  Cast: Woody Allen, Letty Aronson, Marshall Brickman, Josh Brolin


The tone of the film is set up from the beginning, the familiar font, the jazz playing over shots of New York; this film is not setting out to interrogate the man Woody Allen. It is a portrait of the artist and his career and yet doesn’t shy away from his life’s controversies but focuses on how the personal relates to the work.


If you’re watching hoping for shocking revelations about his personal life then this is not for you.
The film is a standard talking heads documentary without narration. Interviews with Allen are interwoven with clips from his films, archive footage and features a range of interview subjects from the industry such as Jack Rollins, Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest and even his mother makes a brief appearance.


What makes this documentary stand out is that director Robert B. Weide has unprecedented access to Allen’s process. Allen is notorious for his hatred of publicity and never includes extras on DVDs and rarely gives interviews. We watch as Allen gets out his forty year old typewriter that he has used to type all his scripts and his drawer full of yellow loose A4 pages that hold all his ideas. He shows him around his old neighbourhood and even has access to him on set and in the editing room.


Allen is incredibly open and relaxed on film and there is clearly trust between them which makes for an insightful documentary. Some viewers may want more criticism of his work but Allen makes up for that with his consistent downplaying of his achievements. Love him or hate him, with forty years of filmmaking and no sign of him stopping yet, to quote his manager Jack Rollins ‘the man’s an industry.’


Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Woody Allen – A Documentary is released in the IFI on 8th June 2012


Interview: Director Robert Weide talks about his film biography of Woody Allen


Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh caught up with director Robert Weide to find out more about his film biography of Woody Allen, which is released in cinemas this Friday, 8th June.

Woody Allen: A Documentary chronicles the trajectory and longevity of Allen’s career: from his teenage years furnishing jokes for comics and publicists, his work in the 1950s-60s as a TV scribe for Sid Caesar, stand-up comedian and frequent TV talk show guest, to a writer-director averaging one film each year for more than 40 years.

Congratulations on the film. I’m an avid Woody Allen film and really enjoyed it.

Thank you.

Was this a project you wanted to work on for a long time?

Yes, I first met Woody when I was 22, making a documentary on the Marx Brothers, I’ve been coming back to him every decade trying to get him to make the film. He initially refused but eventually I wore him down. He really didn’t believe that he was interesting enough for a documentary to be made about him.

What interests you about Woody Allen?

I’ve long admired his work. I find the narrative arc of his career really interesting, he started out writing jokes in school, then went on to become a comic and then moved to film. Also, there isn’t a lot known about his writing process, or how he is on set, he never does DVD extras or anything like that. The only way to see him on set is if you are in one of his films so I really wanted to show his approach to his work.

As you said, Allen famously dislikes publicity and you had to wear him down; how did you convince him?

I eventually wrote him a really convincing letter, about three years ago, saying that now was the time to do this and that I was the one to do it. I think it helped that myself and Woody have shared interests. He had seen my films because he was interested in the topics, so he trusted me as a filmmaker.

He comes across as very relaxed on film and you have great access to him, on set and in his home. How did you build this relationship with him?

We had a lot of email contact beforehand. Now, Woody doesn’t like using technology, so I would email his assistant and she would either print them out and he would read them or she would read them aloud to him. He then would dictate the emails back to her. We got to know each other quite well that way, and our emails go to the point of being sarcastic and calling each other names in the way that men do to show affection for one another.

The tone of the film shows him in a positive light, you clearly admire his work – some have criticised the film as overly sympathetic to him – what is your opinion on this?

I’m not a total sycophant. I don’t think it is gushing. If any of the interviewers would gush and go on about him being a genius, I would just cut it. Who wants to watch a documentary and someone is saying that they don’t like his work or think anything of him. I show the narrative of his life, we show Stardust Memories and the outcry about that, we talk about that people had written him off because of the reaction to his films in the early nineties, we also show his relationship with Mia Farrow and Soon Yi, but I wasn’t interested in making the film a courtroom drama. It’s strange because no one ever made that comment on any of my other films that they were one-sided.

As a big fan of his work myself I don’t find the scandals in his life relevant to how I watch his films but some people cannot get past the negative aspects of his public persona– what was your approach to addressing this?

I find it the least interesting part of his life. For some people it is the most interesting, or the only thing they know about him. People act like it is something that happened to them. He’s now been with Soon Yi for 17 years. People asked me was I going to include his relationship with Mia Farrow and Soon Yi and I said yeah, of course because it’s part of his life. I was interested in how his personal life impacted his work. And it had very little impact on his work, really if any at all. When he was going through that he was making Bullets over Broadway, which is an excellent Allen film.

After an early stand up performance in the Bleaker Street club, The Bitter End, in which the audience did not respond well, manager Jack Rollins said to the owner – ‘you see, he’s an industry!’ Do you agree that he is an industry, almost a genre to himself?

That’s one of my favourite moments in the film. Woody jokes that he has a small and disloyal fan base. He has a niche industry. Midnight in Paris took in over 100 million but that’s a Thursday night preview screening of The Avengers. The way he looks at it, as long as he makes a couple of bucks on a film, he can go on to make another one. He has made 43 films in as many years. He doesn’t read his reviews, he doesn’t listen to his critics – either good or bad, he doesn’t go to the award shows. He honestly doesn’t believe that he is all that good, and it’s not modesty. For him, the great directors are Fellini, Bergman and he doesn’t believe that his films are comparable.

The themes of his films are discussed in the documentary – how do you think he manages to ask similar questions throughout his films without it becoming repetitive?

Some people say that he is making the same film over and over but I would say to them how is Purple Rose of Cairo similar to Match Point? They are a totally different style. I think if you are not interested in those existential questions of why are we here, our relationship with death, etc. and you’re not so keen on him then you could find it repetitive. My favourite author is Kurt Vonnegut, and he talks about the same subjects throughout his books.

The film was a three hour documentary on PBS. How did the feature edit come about?

I had always planned to make a two-hour documentary but when I was in the editing room there was so much that I phoned PBS and asked if I could get two nights, they said that was fine. Woody didn’t want a theatrical release in the US but was ok with a release overseas. I’m happy with the final cut of the film, I cut it myself so I can’t blame any network people. I would encourage people to see it. When the executive producers watched the cut they said they cannot notice what I left out. I don’t think that it’s lacking. For the diehard Woody fans, there will be a DVD version of the full PBS Documentary at some stage. I had ongoing bets with Woody as he said that no one would fund it, no one would distribute it, no one would want to see it!

Lastly, what’s your favourite Woody Allen film?

Why do people always ask me that? [laughs] My default answer is now Annie Hall, I like about eight films as much as Annie Hall but I went to see the premiere when I was in High School and it was such an amazing experience, it really felt that not only would Woody Allen’s films never be the same but that genre of comedy would never be the same again. I mean it won best Oscar over Star Wars that year. I love Crimes and Misdemeanours as well, but Annie Hall has that nostalgia for me of when I first saw it.



Cinema Review: Midnight in Paris

Typical Woody Allen sci-fi

DIR/WRI: Woody Allen • PRO: Letty Aronson, Jaume Roures, Stephen Tenenbaum • ED: Alisa Lepselter • DOP: Johanne Debas , Darius Khondji • DES: Anne Seibel • CAST: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates

Since leaving his native New York to set up shop in Europe, Woody Allen has reached some of the highs (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point) and lows (Cassandra’s Dream, Scoop) of his career. Thankfully, Midnight in Paris counts not only as one of the best of Allen’s recent output, but also his biggest ever box-office hit.

Owen Wilson plays a self-deprecating Hollywood screenwriter who is trying to finish his first novel. While holidaying in Paris with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams), her secret crush (Michael Sheen) and her parents, Wilson goes for a walk alone in the city at night and somehow finds himself transported to Paris circa 1920, and soon he is in the company of Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali and almost every other early 20th century artist or writer you can think of. In the middle of this creative hub is Adriana (Marion Cotillard), whose beauty was the muse of many of the famous names mentioned above, and who Wilson promptly falls in love with. But will he decide to stay in his perceived ‘Golden Age’ of Paris with this new love, or return to the 21st century and a life he’s unsure of?

This vaguely sci-fi-ish central premise is played loose, so as not to weigh down the inherent comedy and romance of the situation. Allen uses this film not only as a love letter to Paris, with every shot brimming over with the city’s natural beauty, but also a love letter to writing, to music, to history, to love itself. Reminiscent of the fantastically romantic Amelie, this is exactly the kind of movie they hardly ever make anymore. And prepare to feel the overwhelming urge to buy a ticket to Paris the second the end credits begin.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Midnight in Paris is released on 7th October 2011

Midnight in Paris – Official Website


IFI presents the first part of the Stars Behind the Camera Season


1– 30 October

To coincide with three new releases directed by actors Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris), Paddy Considine (Tyrannosaur) and George Clooney (The Ides of March); the IFI is examining the rich history of stars behind the camera that stretches back to D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille and Charlie Chaplin.

The motivations for taking the creative reigns of film production may vary but the result has often made for riveting cinema. An established actor often enters the craft of film direction with to develop personal projects and brings with them an unmatchable understanding of their performers. Others like Chaplin, Tati and Allen have based the greater part of their careers around starring and directing in films that bear their personal stamp.

Highlights of the season include Woody Allen’s hugely popular The Purple Rose of Cairo and George Clooney’s stylish liberal homage to journalistic courage during McCarthyism, Good Night, and Good Luck. Check out two classic silent comedies The General by Buster Keaton and City Lights by Charlie Chaplain, the two comic masters of the silent era, and Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, their equally accomplished visual comedian from the 1950s. Gary Oldman’s current triumph as George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy provides the perfect excuse to revisit his one foray into direction, the gritty semi-autobiographical Nil by Mouth. And if you’ve never seen it, don’t pass up this opportunity to see Orson Welles’ iconic and astonishing continuous tracking shot that opens Touch of Evil.


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We Love … St Valentine: ‘Annie Hall’

We Love... St Valentine

Illustration by Adeline Pericart

Get a bottle of Blue Nun, splash yourself with them cheap Christmas smellies your Auntie got you for Christmas, slip on your Penny’s underwear and turn up the stereo with the sweet, sweet sound of Barry White. And hey, if you have a partner that’s an added bonus. Yes, it’s that time of year, when St. Valentine comes to town. So in his honour the film lovers here at Film Ireland present their favourite lurve-themed films.

We’ll be adding to the list in the run-up to the 14th check it out here. As always, feel free to add your own favourites. If you’d like to include your own review, contact

Now let’s get it on…

Annie Hall

Sarah Griffin

Alvy Singer… the most likeable of unlikeable movie characters! Oscillating between pessimism and suffering, he stumbles through the darkness of life, occasionally finding hope in the arms of a succession of Gentile women serving as foil to his giant, Jewish brain. Bookended by the ultimate in relationship realism, the film begins and ends with Alvy’s break-up from the most promising of these women – Annie Hall. A frivolous WASPy woman, whose catchphrase ‘Laa-dee-daa’ both enrages and excites Alvy, she meanders through life not thinking too deeply on anything. She meets Alvy, she likes Alvy – for her, that’s enough… but for him, he needs to question every nuance of their relationship, and begins his mission to educate and confuse her.

Annie Hall represents a culmination of Allen’s ideas about the centrality of Jewish humour to a certain type of romantic comedy, which has become a staple movie subgenre – from When Harry Met Sally to Knocked Up. The ’70s realised an epoch of Jewish-American performers let loose from the ties of concealing their ethnic origins, and the bustling metropolis of New York has become intrinsically linked with this, and the persona of Woody Allen – along with the creation of ‘a nervous romance’, as Annie Hall was billed.

For such a perfect movie, it’s hard to believe that it almost fell at the first hurdle. The original ideas for the script revolved much more around the character of Alvy, obsessing on his many neuroses and compulsions, but Annie’s character proved so much of a draw that it eventually became a romance. And it’s easy to see why! Diane Keaton infuses Annie with her own traits and foibles – and, indeed, she had dated Allen before the movie, and he had educated her in dealing with Hollywood and fame. Whilst they were by now friends and contemporaries, it’s easy to read some autobiography into the frame. While Alvy, and Allen himself, is a somewhat odious character, Annie represents the emotional heart of the movie, and her characterisation provided a feminine ideal for late 1970s America. Soon, women all over the country were sporting waistcoats and trilbies, and embracing intellectualism as something that can be lived with alongside a regular life!

They fall in love, they fight, they laugh, they make love, they break up, they get back together, they break up again… and all the while, we are presented with the most realistic depiction of a relationship ever committed to celluloid. Annie’s difference from Alvy’s consummately Jewish character is important in terms of his attraction to her – he is obsessed with death and dying, and she is innocent and playful; together they form a balance for each others’ inadequacies and ineptitudes. Their evolution as characters is realistic and touching – and our initial knowledge of their break-up is tempered by watching their burgeoning romance, and never feels tainted by this understanding. Bookended by the break-up, and by typically Jewish jokes, the ending offers much more satisfaction – with their mature realisation of friendship after romance, and the desolation and loneliness of the beginning is dissipated by their mutual respect and love. One of the greatest marriages of intellect and heart, Annie Hall marks the highest point of romantic comedy – hilarious and tragic, it is also infused with a deep romance that makes it impossible not to like. We see the truth of relationships laid bare – and, like Alvy, we too draw the conclusion that awful and terrible though they might be, depressed though they make us, we all still, essentially, need the eggs!




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