A sad young woman boards a train in Moscow. Bound for Mongolia, she's trying to leave a broken relationship as far behind her as she can. Wanting to be alone, she chooses an empty compartment - No 6. Her solitude is soon shattered by the arrival of a fellow passenger: Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov, a grizzled, opinionated and foul-mouthed ex-soldier, 'a cauliflower-eared man in a black workingman's overcoat and a white ermine hat'. Vadim fills the compartment with his long and colourful stories, recounting his sexual conquests and violent fights in lurid detail.
At first, the young woman is not so much shocked as disgusted by him, and she stands up to him, throwing a boot at his head. But though Vadim may be crude, he isn't cruel, and he shares with her the sausage and black bread and tea he's brought for the journey, coaxing the girl out of her melancholy state. As their train cuts slowly across a wintery Russia, where 'everything is moving, snow, water, air, clouds, wind, towns, villages, people and ideas', a grudging kind of companionship grows between the two inhabitants of Compartment No 6 and the girl realises that if she works out how to listen, Vadim's stories may just contain lessons for her.
Compartment No 6 is a wickedly mischievous, darkly imaginative and completely unforgettable ride.