The movie is set in Moscow from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. It tells a story about three provincial girls who come to Moscow. They are settled in the same room in a dormitory and eventually become friends. Katerina, played by Vera Alentova, strives to earn her degree and also works hard at a factory. At a party she meets a man Rudolf (Yuri Vasilyev) who works as a cameraman for a television channel. He eventually seduces Katerina resulting in her becoming pregnant. Rudolf decides that a marriage is not an option. This leaves Katerina alone with a baby - Rudolf's mother, a member of the Soviet elite, tells her to leave her son alone and offers her money, which Katerina refuses.
The movie shows Katerina with tears in her eyes setting her alarm clock in a dormitory where she just arrived after bearing her daughter, Alexandra (later played by Natalya Vavilova), then takes a 20-year leap forward in time. Katerina is then shown waking up to the sound of an alarm clock in her own apartment. She still hasn't married, but she is now the director of a large factory. She has a lover, an older married man named Volodya (Oleg Tabakov), but she still feels that something is missing in her life.
One evening when Katerina is returning home from her friend's home in the countryside on a train , she meets a man named Gosha (Aleksey Batalov). Soon after they start seeing each other, but an unexpected return of Rudolf seems to ruin everything. Rudolf is part of a news crew that arrives at Ekaterina's factory to do a report on the factory's great production rate. He recognizes his ex-lover and wants to make amends and meet his daughter. Katerina tells him that she is about to get married and doesn't let him call or visit their home. But Rudolf comes against her will when Gosha, Katerina and Alexandra are having dinner. He tells them about the interview, and at that moment Gosha finds out that Katerina is a director and that her salary must be bigger than his own. Being a man that can't let a woman be on top of him in any way, Gosha gets upset and leaves.
For several days he is nowhere to be seen, he doesn't call and doesn't come to Katerina, until at last she and her former dormitory roommates gather in her kitchen and decide that they have to do something. Nikolai (Boris Smorchkov), the husband of Antonina, sets out to find Gosha. He finds him drinking and after getting drunk with him he convinces Gosha to return to Katerina.
The final scene of the movie is set in the kitchen of Katerina's flat. Gosha eats soup, while Katerina watches him with tears in her eyes. Gosha asks "What's wrong?" Katerina replies "I've been looking for you for so long". After a moment of thought Gosha says "Eight days." Katerina says "No," and repeats, "I've been looking for you for so long."
US President Ronald Reagan watched the film several times prior to his meetings with the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in order to gain a better understanding of the "Russian soul".