When Katya is asked by some cousins to housesit their fancy apartment, Lyudmilla hits on a scheme to pass herself and Katya off as a professor's daughters, and thus draw the attention of some eligible bachelors. They host a dinner for some single men, which ends up with Lyudmilla landing Gurin, a handsome young hockey player, while Katya pairs off with Rudolf, a cameraman with Russian state television. Rudolf gets Katya pregnant. He is then called to Katya's factory to film a news segment, and thus finds out that she is pregnant and she lied to him about being an upper-class university student. He then dumps her, and leaves her to have the baby alone. Katya has a daughter she names Alexandra.
Time Skip twenty years, and Katya has moved up in the world, and now is manager of the factory where she used to work. However she is still single and lonely, until she finds a completely unexpected romance with Gosha (Alexsey Batalov), a taciturn yet affectionate blue-collar worker (a tool-and-die craftsman). Gosha moves in with Katya and Alexandra, and everyone is happy until Rudolf shows up again, once more bringing misery into Katya's life.
This film is so iconic as a representation of Soviet culture in the late Brezhnev era that, when Paige's mom wanted to indoctrinate her as a Russian spy on The Americans, they watched this film. Along with War and Peace, Dersu Uzala and Burnt by the Sun, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears is one of four Russian-language films to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
- Age Cut: Katya sets her alarm clock and goes to bed one evening. It rings to wake her up again—and it's twenty years later.
- The Alcoholic: Gurin after the Time Skip. He eventually gets sober and announces that he's accepted a job as a hockey coach back in his hometown.
- When Katya and Rudolf say their final goodbye in the park in 1958, some men are playing dominoes on the next bench, and a man is on a walk with a young girl, presumably his daughter. When they meet again two decades later, they sit on the same park bench, the same men are playing dominoes, and the same man is taking a walk with his daughter, now a grown woman.
- At the dinner party that Katya and Lyudmilla host for eligible bachelors, the older gentleman caller remarks that when you turn forty, you feel like life is just beginning again. Katya and Ludmilla are skeptical. Then Rudolf goes on an enthusiastic spiel about how television is going to change the world and in twenty years there will be no books or theater or movies, only TV. He then offers to get Katya into a studio audience at the television studio. Twenty years later, when Rudolf comes to Katya's home, she makes the exact same remark about life beginning at forty. Rudolf then goes on the same spiel about TV replacing all other art forms within twenty years, and then issues the same invitation to come to the studio, this time to his daughter Alexandra. (There's a little bit of Incest Subtext there, as in 1958, taking Katya to the studio was what Rudolf did to get into her pants.)
- Comforting Comforter: Gosha puts a blanket over Katya when she dozes off at the picnic.
- Cool Train: The ER2 that Katya and Gosha ride.
- Country Mouse: That's why at first Lyudmilla doesn't like Kolya for Tonya.
- Creator Cameo: Vladimir Menshov is one of the guests at Gosha's picnic.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lyudmilla and her sharp tongue.
- Did You Just Have Sex?: When Alexandra suddenly comes back home, her mother and Gosha hastily pretend they were watching television, but Alexandra sees right through it immediately likely because the TV (as TVs of that era were wont to do) didn't actually come on until a few seconds after being turned on, and about a second after the daughter came in.
- Early-Bird Cameo: Gurin appears at the beginning as the boy who hits on Lyudmilla on the metro, and Rudolf is one of the (many) guys who calls the pensionate looking for Lyudmilla.
- Fourth Date Marriage: Lampshaded by Gosha, who announces his intention to marry Katya despite having known her for "22 hours and 44 minutes". When an astonished Alexandra asks if that isn't a bit sudden, Gosha agrees, saying it's a mistake to rush into marriage. He then says they can wait until Wednesday.
- Friends with Benefits: When the film rejoins Katya after the Time Skip, she's having an affair with a married man. She finds it demeaning, weeping after a narrow escape from discovery by her lover's mother-in-law.
- Generation Xerox: Kolya and Tonya ended up Happily Married and living in the countryside just like Kolya's parents.
- Gilligan Cut: Lyudmilla explains her scheme to use the apartment to disguise themselves as upper-class college students. Katya says "I don't want to lie". Cut to Katya and Lyudmilla, dressed up fancy, pretending to be upper-class college students. Later, after she's pregnant, Katya says "There's not going to be any baby", followed immediately by a cut to Katya outside the hospital, carrying her baby.
- Glorified Sperm Donor: Rudolf, who knocked up Katya and then blew her off, but 20 years later wants to get to know his daughter.
- Gold Digger: Lyudmilla is competely unapologetic about wanting to trick a professional man into marrying her.
- Happily Married: Antonina and Nikolai. Lyudmilla is rather rudely dismissive of Antonina's marriage to a country bumpkin, but the Time Skip reveals that they have a happy family with three children.
- Kitchen Sink Drama: A drama of working-class people in Moscow in 1958 and in the late 1970s.
- Laser-Guided Karma: And the karma is pretty harsh. Lyudmilla's scheming does in fact succeed in landing her Gurin, the charming, sweet hockey player. Fast-forward twenty years, and Gurin has turned into a hopeless alcoholic, while he and Lyudmilla have been divorced for sometime and she is stuck in her same old life as a single working-class woman.
- No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: Rudolf re-enters Katya's life when he is once again called to the factory to film her for TV, now as the plant director rather than an ambitious Wrench Wench. He thinks she looks familiar but doesn't realize who she is until someone else calls her by name. When he finally figures it out, a bitter Katya says "Have I changed so much?".
- Politically Incorrect Hero: Gosha is pretty sexist, saying straight-up that the man should be head of the household and make more than the woman. He's honest about it, at least. When he finds out that Katya is actually much more successful than he is, a factory boss and city councillor as compared to his blue-collar job, he leaves, although that might be more because she lied to him (though lying is totally okay when he does it, apparently).
- Time Skip: 20 years between the first part of the story where Katerina gets knocked up, and the second part where she has a grown daughter. The skip finds Antonina still Happily Married while Lyudmilla is a bitter divorcee.
- Title Drop: Said by Antonina late in the film, as a grief-stricken Katya weeps following Gosha's departure.
- Vodka Drunkenski: The funny thing is, Gurin is The Teetotaler in 1958, but people keep badgering him to take a drink, like at Katya and Lyudmilla's party or Antonina's wedding reception. Twenty years later, Lyudmilla blames Gurin's alcoholism on all the hockey fans that kept wanting him to drink with them.
- Wacky Cravings: Katya expresses a sudden fondness for pickles. Her friends instantly figure out that she's pregnant.
- Wrench Wench: Katya gets tired of waiting for fitters to come around and fix the mechanical press that she operates, so she busts out a wrench and does it herself. She promptly is promoted and becomes the only fitter in the plant. This foreshadows her later upward mobility to plant manager.