Sofia Petrovna, a typist in the Soviet Union in 1937 is proud of the achievements of her son Nikolai (Kolya). Kolya, an engineering student and strong Communist, is at the beginning of a promising career, with his picture featured on the cover of Pravda. Before long, however, the Great Purge begins and Sofia's coworkers begin vanishing, amid accusations of treachery. Soon, Kolya's best friend Alik reports that Kolya has been arrested. Sofia and her friend and fellow typist Natasha try to find out more but are drowned in a sea of bureaucrats and long lines. More people vanish, and Sofia spends ever more time in lines at government buildings. Natasha makes a typographical error that is mistaken for a criticism of the Red Army and she is fired. When Sofia defends her, she is criticized and soon forced out as well. Alik is questioned, and when he does not renounce Kolya, he, too, is arrested and vanishes. Natasha and Sofia both lose their will to live. Natasha commits suicide via poison, and Sofia immerses herself in a fantasy of Kolya's return. When she finally gets a letter from Kolya, in which he reaffirms his innocence and tells more of his own story, Sofia tries to fight for his freedom again, but realizes that, in this bizarre, chaotic place, she will likely only place more suspicion on herself and Kolya. Out of desperation, she burns the letter.
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