Illegal street racing… in Denmark? Christian E Christiansen’s On The Edge offers an adrenaline rush with real emotions.

It’s not often you hear a film described as a mix of The Fast and The Furious and Crime and Punishment. But Rotterdam’s catalogue nailed it when explaining On The Edge, a world premiere in IFFR’s Spectrum section.

Cyron Melville and Jakob Oftebro play two long-time friends who bond over their love of cars and illegal street racing. Their relationship radically changes after a racing accident has tragic consequences. 2014 EFP Berlin Shooting Star Danica Curcic is luminous as the woman caught between them.

Christian E. Christiansen directs, and he handles the action deftly, on a budget that Hollywood stunt drivers would laugh at. But it’s not just a film for gearheads, as it explores the emotional depths of these guys off the streets.

The script is predictable, but the material feels fresh thanks to its setting — car chases in LA are mundane, but in the streets of Copenhagen they are definitely something new.

Christiansen knew that the driving (and crashing) sequences would be a challenge and planned ahead. “We took 10 percent of the total budget [of €2m] for car sequences,” he explained after Saturday’s world premiere. “They needed to feel real and suck you into it. It’s that adrenaline rush.”

He said those sequences were obviously the most complicated thing about making this film (his seventh feature), “because it was so technical.

He also learned an important lesson: “When you are shooting a car like that you have to have a camera car driving that fast or faster, we were going 120 km per hour.”

The street scenes were actually shot in Aarhus, not Copenhagen. And Christiansen might not be getting a key to the city anytime soon. “We kept up most of the city a few nights, that Corvette was so loud it was keeping up an entire neighborhood. We weren’t so popular,” he said with a laugh.

Christiansen (who also co-wrote the script) thinks that emotional connection comes because the film is rooted in reality. “What I’m trying to do is make it authentic as possible. Everything is something I read about in a newspaper, but taken to extremes,” he says.

Dialogue also feels authentic, thanks in part to contributions from the cast. “When we work, we use a lot of improvisation, we have a script but often to get a real feel out of it I let the actors use their own voice and own words,” he explained.

The team should be applauded for taking risks on a film that’s certainly an atypical Scandinavian production; and Rotterdam should be proud to recognise that not all adrenaline rush films are mindless entertainment.

Zentropa produces and TrustNordisk handles sales. The film continues screening in Rotterdam until Saturday.