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No higher power is going to punish us for our misdeeds if we get away with them," says Angelica Huston's character in Crimes and Misdemeanors, one of the darker films Woody Allen made before the Soon Yi scandal sent him skittering back to neurotic romantic comedies. The question is, are Allen's staunchly loyal fans (the same ones who politely looked away when the crepe-necked one got into bed with Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite) going to let him get away with Everyone Says I Love You?

There's no question of Allen's status. Who else could have a reef of A-list stars falling over themselves to sing their way through a modern musical? Everyone Says I Love You is all ersatz Astaire, a twinkly, featherlight confection that sees Julia Roberts, Goldie Hawn, Drew Barrymore and Edward Norton strolling by Venetian fountains and squeaking schmaltzy old love songs in untrained voices. An indulgence that teeters on the edge of absurdity, it's also the director's 27th film - not bad for Allen Stewart Konigsberg, the working class Jewish boy chucked out of college and film school.

So what is it about the bantam-weight auteur that allows him to keep peddling such whimsical fantasies? In a way the film is simply the latest slice of outrageous conservatism from a director who has made a career from looking backwards. After the Hitchcockian genre play of Manhattan Murder Mystery and the pastiched 1920s world of Bullets Over Broadway, Allen has turned his nebbish nostalgia to that most unfashionable of forms, the musical.

Even in his earliest, least mannered movies, Allen focused on conservative subjects - choosing to represent rich, white New Yorkers, and mining one- liners from the mess that sex and neuroses make of their orderly lives. It is traditional satire which while gently ribbing it's players, actually acts to shore up an existent order of gentrified, middle-class, middle brow life. Using his own vocabulary of therapy, American film critic Pauline Kael characterised the director's vision as a "repression" of reality, and it seems that in the age of Tarantino splatter, audiences can't get enough of this fogeyish escapism.

So it's strange to learn that Allen's forthcoming projects include Reconstructing Harry, a film about an obnoxious neurotic. Watch out Woody, you might be sailing a little close to reality on that one. But, if he can get away with Everyone Says I Love You, he can probably get away with anything.

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